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Muslim group, imam say sentencing of man who attacked worshippers not enough

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Members of Canada's Muslim community expressed disappointment this week at the eight-year sentence handed to a man who attacked worshippers at a Toronto-area mosque, arguing it wasn't strong enough to discourage similar violence in the future.

Imam Ibrahim Hindy said the attack last year at the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre in Mississauga, Ont. – which involved bear spray, a hatchet and was found to have been intended as a mass casually event – has left the community with long-lasting psychological pain.

He said the sentence handed to Mohammad Moiz Omar, who pleaded guilty in the case, does little to deter future violence against Muslims.

"So many of our community members have struggled over the past year and a half ... and there's no sentence that's going to bring us back to the time before these feelings of fear, hurt and loss existed," Hindy said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

"This person was planning to kill people for no reason other than their faith. Someone planning a mass casualty event against innocent Canadians, who are peaceful, who are vulnerable, their backs are turned to him, they're in prayer ... deserves more than eight years."

Mohammad Moiz Omar was sentenced to eight years in prison on Tuesday but will serve about five years after credit for time spent in pre-trial custody, court documents show.

An agreed statement of facts filed with court said an investigation found that Omar planned to carry out a mass casualty event and had planned the attack for about a year. The attack was also aimed at "intimidating" Muslims, the document said.

Omar entered the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre around 7 a.m. on March 19, 2022, armed with a hatchet and bear spray, the agreed statement of facts said.

About 30 worshippers had their backs turned in prayer when Omar began spraying bear spray, and they turned around and fought him as he brandished a hatchet, the document said.

The agreed statement of facts said one of the congregants heard Omar say "I hate you" and "you are all terrorists."

The congregants in the mosque managed to restrain Omar, the document said, and none of them suffered serious injuries. Multiple people in the mosque suffered side-effects from the bear spray, the document noted.

Omar has a Muslim background but told police he was an atheist and hated Islam, the document said.

"Mr. Omar made several admissions in his statement to police. He expressed hatred for Muslims, and his disappointment that he failed to inflict any real harm to the victims," the document said. "When asked if (he) had hoped to inspire others to commit similar attacks he commented, 'In a sense ya. You can always hope.'"

Omar pleaded guilty to charges of administering a noxious substance with intent to endangering life or causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, and mischief to religious property with the motivation of bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, all of which were considered to constitute terrorist activity, the agreed statement of facts said.

Hindy, the imam at the mosque, said the people who intervened to stop Omar during the attack were heroes.

"They were willing to sacrifice themselves and that helped there be no loss of life or serious injury," he said.

Hindy said some worshippers haven't returned to the mosque since the attack.

Steven Zhou, a spokesman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, an advocacy group, said the case has affected many people deeply.

"(Mosques) are supposed to be a place of safety and having that violated is going to be a really hard thing to overcome psychologically," Zhou said.

Zhou said the attack has left some victims with lingering breathing problems due to the bear spray and a male who was present during the attack "needs all kinds of counselling in order to stop being afraid of coming to the mosque and he can't stop talking about what happened."

"There were dozens of people here that morning on March 19 of last year, and for all those people, it's going to take a lot of healing," Zhou said.

Both Hindy and Zhou said they want Ottawa to create a fund for counselling for victims. They also said community members want the federal government to make changes to online harm legislation to help prevent radicalization.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2023. 

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