Family of man fatally stabbed outside Rexdale mosque releases video, says killing should be labelled hate crime
TORONTO -- The family of a Muslim man who was viciously stabbed to death outside of a mosque in Rexdale last month in an apparently unprovoked attack is calling for his death to be declared a hate crime.
“My heart has like a hole in it, but with pain, with anger, with frustration,” Bebi Zafis told reporters Thursday while speaking about the murder of her father.
Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was volunteering outside of the International Muslim Organization (IMO) mosque in the area of Rexdale Boulevard and Islington Avenue on the night of Sept. 12. The volunteer caretaker was checking how many people were entering the building in order to comply with COVID-19 capacity restrictions.
His killing was allegedly captured in a video, a copy of which was released through the National Council of Canadian Muslims Thursday in order to draw attention to the unprovoked nature of the attack.
In the video, a dark figure is seen walking behind Zafis, who is seated in a chair outside the mosque.
He passes by him and walks a distance, then turns around and passes behind him one more time before pausing to pull something out of a bag.
The figure then approaches Zafis from behind while holding the item. In the video, Zafis does not appear to realize that anyone is behind him.
At around 8:40 p.m., emergency crews found Zafis suffering from a stab wound to his neck and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Toronto police have described the killing as “vicious” and “gruesome” but have not ruled it a hate crime so far. The force has confirmed that they have a copy of the full video, which also captured the moments after the figure approached Zafis.
Speaking with reporters, Bebi Zafis said her father “was everything” to her. She described him as a kind and giving man who was her “inspiration” and her “backbone.”
She said she wanted the video to be released in order to draw attention to the horrible crime and she wants the killing labelled as a hate crime to hopefully prevent something similar from happening again.
“I want the world to see that so it will not happen to our next family. I want the world to see something like this should be stopped,” she said.
Police arrested a suspect in the case on Sept. 18.
Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, 34, is facing a first-degree murder charge in Zafis’ death.
The Canadian Anti-hate Network, an independent nonprofit organization which monitors and tracks hate groups in Canada, said last month that its review of Von Neutegem’s social media accounts found links to a neo-Nazi occultist group known as “the Order of the 9 Angles” (O9A).
Toronto police have not confirmed a connection between Von Neutegem and the hate group, but have said they are looking into it.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto Thursday, Canadian Anti-hate Network Chair Bernie Farber called on Toronto police to work with anti-hate experts and said the possible link is cause for concern.
“Let me be very clear, people have to be very concerned,” Farber said.
He said that while he’s been on the front lines of combatting hate groups for decades, the activities of such groups have gotten worse recently.
“In 30 years I have not seen something as dangerous as we're seeing today. Where in the past we dealt with hateful and violent words, swastikas on synagogues, today those violent actions and violent words have turned to assault and have turned to murder. And it's only going to get worse, unless the police gain an expertise and work with the experts who know this scene inside out and backwards.”
He described O9A as “a neo-Nazi satanic cult” and said a number of O9A members have been tied to terror activities and murders in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere.
In a statement, the police service said they are aware of the social media posts and “will follow the evidence where it leads.”
“We can confirm we aware of the posts in relation to O9A. We are continuing our investigation into Von Neutegem’s background including his social media posts,” the force said. “As part of the investigation, we have been in touch with subject matter experts internally including our hate crime unit and our federal partners such as Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams.”
They said the investigation remains “active and ongoing.”
In the meantime, Zafis’ dautghter said she wants justice for her father.
“I want justice. Justice mean the monster who kills my dad has to pay for what he did in any circumstance so he would not hurt the next family out there. He needs to serve what he deserves.”
The charges against Von Neutegem have not been proven in court.