Trudeau offers condolences to family of Toronto mosque stabbing victim

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has offered condolences to the family of a volunteer caretaker who was stabbed to death at a Toronto mosque earlier this month — while also saying reports that the incident is connected to Neo-Nazism and Islamophobia are worrisome.

Prime Minister says reports that incident was linked to Neo-Nazism and Islamophobia are ‘extremely concerning’

Daughter Bebe Zafis, second left, and family members react at her fathers casket during the funeral of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis in Toronto on Sept. 16. Police say Zafis was fatally stabbed while he sat outside the mosque as he controlled entry to the building in order to comply with public health protocols. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has offered condolences to the family of a volunteer caretaker who was stabbed to death at a Toronto mosque earlier this month — while also saying reports that the incident is connected to Neo-Nazism and Islamophobia are worrisome.

"My heart goes out to the loved ones of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis," Trudeau tweeted Tuesday morning.

"The reports that his murder was motivated by Neo-Nazism and Islamophobia are extremely concerning. We stand with Muslim communities against such hatred, which has no place in Canada. We are with you."

Guilherme "William" Von Neutegem, 34, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the killing of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis.

Zafis, 58, was stabbed when he was sitting outside an Etobicoke mosque on Sept. 12, controlling the number of people who entered in order to comply with public health regulations. In the days after his death, Zafis was mourned by his family and friends as a "kind, gentle soul" who would hand out food to the hungry and keep his fellow worshippers safe.

Von Neutegem shared what appears to be content from a satanic neo-Nazi group in social media posts, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit organization that monitors, researches and combats hate groups.

CBC News knows the name of the hate group but is choosing not to use it to avoid giving it any additional exposure.

Evan Balgord, the network's executive director, describes the group Von Neutegem is linked to as a satanic neo-Nazi death cult.

"They are explicitly anti-Semitic and they're explicitly racist," Balgord previously said. "They worship Hitler as a God figure."

Calls for action mount

In the wake of the incident, the National Council of Canadian Muslims is calling on the federal government to take immediate action in dismantling white supremacist groups.

"When the Quebec City Mosque attack happened, many of us prayed that this would be the last time we lost community members to Islamophobia and hate. We were wrong," said Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the council, in a statement. "As the number of alt-right and neo-Nazi groups grow in Canada, we now know that without action today, it will simply be a matter of time before the next attack.

"When I saw Brother Mohamed on the ground outside the mosque, that was the last time that anyone in Canada should have to see such a sight. That's why we're calling for immediate action."

Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was remembered by friends and family at his funeral as a 'kind, gentle soul' who, even on the day he was killed, handed out food to the hungry and worked to keep his fellow worshippers safe.  (Toronto Police Service)

The actions the group is calling for include banning white supremacist militias, enacting online hate regulations, ensuring national security agencies take white supremacist violence seriously, and a commitment from the nation's political parties to include taking action on white supremacist-linked violence as part of their platforms.

The organization points out that while two white supremacist groups were banned under the current government, there are hundreds more operating.

"When I grew up as a kid we were taught that — in Grade 3 you learn about World War Two, that Nazism is a thing and it's gone away. I didn't think that I was going to be in a situation that I'd be walking into a mosque that I've prayed in so many times and see somebody lying on the ground murdered because of a neo-Nazi return," Farooq said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Tuesday.

Still, he says, "We've been here before."

Following the Quebec City Mosque incident in 2017, when it emerged that the shooter Alexandre Bissonette had accessed various Islamophobic and far-right material online, Farooq said, "People thought there was going to be a change."

"No church, no synagogue, no temple should ever have to see anyone go to through this," he said. "It has to be investigated for what it is... We cannot look away." 

Police refuse to comment on social media posts

CBC News has confirmed Von Neutegem follows at least one Facebook group devoted to the group, has a Nazi symbol on his Instagram account and has posted a chant linked to the hate cult on YouTube. A source with knowledge of the investigation confirmed to CBC News that the accounts belong to Von Neutegem.

"Because of the length of his social media postings and the very specific knowledge he has about the movement, we can definitely say he's deeply-versed and has been for a long time," Balgord said.

Von Neutegem's social media posts also include the use of terms, symbols and videos used by the group.

After his arrest, Toronto police didn't provide details about when Von Neutegem is set to appear in court. It's unclear if he has hired a lawyer at this time. He is set to make another court appearance on Sept. 25.

Police would not comment on Von Neutegem's social media posts.