Toronto mosque discourages speculation, urges vigilance after police say nearby killings could be related

A Toronto-area mosque is cautioning against speculation after one of its beloved volunteers was fatally stabbed over the weekend — an incident police say might be linked to the killing of a man sleeping under a bridge just days before.

International Muslims Organization says it has full faith in police to solve death of beloved volunteer

Police said Monday they are not ruling out the possibility the stabbing deaths of Rampreet (Peter) Singh, 39, right, and Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, left, could be connected. Singh was killed Sept. 7. The Zafis homicide happened Sept. 12. (Toronto Police Service)

A Toronto-area mosque is trying to discourage speculation, but is also urging caution, after one of its beloved volunteers was fatally stabbed over the weekend — an incident police have said could possibly be linked to the killing of a man sleeping under a bridge just days before.

"At this point, we still cannot say definitively what the motive of the attacker was," the International Muslims Organization (IMO) said in a statement.

"However, we must be clear — the fact that the theories have not been ruled out shouldn't lead us to spreading news that a hate crime was committed or that a serial killer is on the loose, as has been shared by some sources," the statement said.

"At the same time, we urge our congregants to keep our brother in your prayers and to of course continue to be vigilant about any suspicious activity in the area,"  the IMO added.

The statement goes on to say the past several nights have been "sleepless" ones for many at the IMO mosque, after a well-known member, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was stabbed to death while seated outside the mosque doors.

The 58-year-old was helping to make sure those entering were properly complying with health protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Toronto police said Monday it's possible Zafis's death on Sept. 12 might be linked to another fatal stabbing, that of Rampreet (Peter) Singh some five kilometres away on Sept. 7. Singh was attacked while sleeping under a bridge on the West Humber Trail, where he had been living since April, police said. 
On Tuesday, several bouquets of flowers could be seen under the bridge where Rampreet (Peter) Singh was killed just days before the fatal stabbing of Mohamed Aslim-Zafis nearby. (CBC)

"By all accounts, he kept to himself. Local residents who would either jog, walk dogs or roller blade would bring him food to eat," said Det. Sgt. Joel Kulmatycki, lead investigator on the Singh homicide.

A jogger located Singh's body around 7 a.m.

Insp. Hank Idsinga did not say definitively if the two cases are linked, but said, "We cannot exclude that possibility." 

"We are asking the public to please continue to be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious people or behaviour to police or to CrimeStoppers."

Speaking outside the mosque Tuesday, its president Omar Farouk described Zafis as "a wonderful human being."

"He was kind, generous, very polite, very humble... He was so helpful in every aspect of the community," Farouk said, recalling how Zafis took the lead in organizing the distribution of approximately 500 food hampers prepared by the mosque each month for members of the community.

Recalling Zafis's role in helping congregants safely enter the mosque on the night he was killed, Farouk said: "He was doing that with love and care for the people. He took that upon himself."

Outside the IMO mosque Tuesday, a mourner left this sign in memory of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis. (CBC)

Farouk added Zafis's wife and children are "very much hurt and disturbed" by his death, and are now preparing for his funeral, which will be held Wednesday. Attendance will be by invitation only due to COVID-19, but will be live streamed for those wishing to view it.

As for the investigation into his death, Farouk said the community has faith and trust in the police, though many are fearful.

"To be honest, our congregation, they're afraid of coming. This incident has generated a great level of fear in them."

Police have released security footage of the suspect in the Zafis homicide and are asking anyone with information to contact them.