“Mississauga, Ont., mosque attacker who planned ‘mass casualty event’ pleads guilty to 3 charges”

Mohammad Moiz Omar pleaded guilty to three charges Wednesday, including administering a noxious substance, assault with a weapon, and mischief to religious property with motivation of bias, prejudice or hate based on religion. (Michael Cole/CBC)

A man who assaulted worshippers at a mosque in Mississauga, Ont., last year had been planning the attack for a year and was motivated by hatred of and a desire to intimidate Muslims, court documents show.

Mohammad Moiz Omar “intended to perpetrate a mass casualty event” when he entered the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre during early morning prayer on March 19, 2022 and sprayed bear spray toward congregants while swinging a hatchet, according to an agreed statement of facts read at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Brampton, Ont. Wednesday.

Omar, who was 24 years old at the time of the attack, pleaded guilty to three charges, according to one of his lawyers, Jacob Roth of Robichaud Criminal Lawyers. Those charges include administering a noxious substance with intent to endanger life or cause bodily harm, assault with a weapon, and mischief to religious property with motivation of bias, prejudice or hate based on religion.

“As part of his plea, Mr. Omar acknowledged that guilt on those three charges constitutes terrorist activity,” Roth said in a phone call Wednesday.

The mosque’s imam, Ibrahim Hindy, said the revelations in court Wednesday confirmed his community’s worst nightmare.

“This was not someone having a bad day or having a mental health episode. This was someone who planned out clearly what he wanted to do and how he wanted to kill Muslims,” Hindy said. “I’m only grateful that our congregation was able to stop him before he was able to ultimately harm someone.”

‘You are all terrorists,’ attacker said

According to the statement of facts, Omar entered the mosque at 7 a.m., when there were approximately 30 people gathered for morning prayer. He approached them from behind and discharged the bear spray while swinging the hatchet.

Congregants heard him say, “I hate you” and “You are all terrorists” during the attack.

The attack was thwarted when congregants pushed Omar to the ground and restrained him.

While none of the worshippers were seriously injured, one was kicked in the stomach and several suffered side effects from the bear spray. Damage to the mosque cost $16,000 to repair.

Police who searched his car found several weapons and tools, including a large knife, a cleaver, a hammer, rope, drill bits, safety goggles, fire extinguishers, and an unknown chemical. Most were recently purchased at a Canadian Tire.

A photo from the agreed statement of facts shows a large knife, cleaver and an axe found on Omar’s person or in his car following the March 2022 mosque attack. (Ontario Superior Court of Justice)

While in custody, Omar told police he had a Muslim background but considered himself an atheist. 

He expressed hatred for Islam and Muslims, and disappointment that he was unable to inflict more serious harm to the victims.

The document says Omar told police he was “provoked” by what he called “an intolerant and violent religion.”

“The attack was also aimed at intimidating a segment of the public (Muslims) with regard to their security,” it says.

Omar told police he had tried to acquire firearms for the attack but was unsuccessful and that he considered building a bomb but lacked the knowledge and skill to do so. He also told them he had considered attacking other targets, including a different mosque and the Pakistani consulate, or using his car to run down Muslims.

“When asked if had hoped to inspire others to commit similar attacks he commented, ‘In a sense ya. You can always hope,'” the document says. 

During a search of Omar’s home, investigators found a hard drive containing video footage of the March 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, N.Z., where a white supremacist killed 51 people and injured another 40. In comments to police, Omar said he enjoyed seeing a woman being shot in that attack.

Police also found evidence that Omar attempted to obtain a 3-D printer capable of printing a firearm and sent emails to himself that disclosed “a high level of planning.”

Steven Zhou, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, also praised the quick response of the congregants that day. 

“If it were not for their bravery, we may very well have attended several funerals in addition to today’s proceedings,” Zhou said. “They could have been the victims of another Quebec City-style attack, or the truck attack in London, Ont., which occurred just months before this attack, or the murder of a caretaker at the IMO mosque in Rexdale not too far from here.”

Zhou said these attacks show a “trend of individuals violently attacking Muslims for who they are and for what they believe” that all Canadians must confront.

In June, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and Ministry of the Attorney General “consented to the commencement of terrorism proceedings” against Omar. The terrorism classification allows prosecutors to pursue tougher sentencing submissions than would apply to a regular offence.

Roth, Omar’s lawyer, said his client remains in custody while he awaits sentencing.

Prosecutors and the defence have submitted a joint sentencing submission of eight years in prison. 

Hindy said that’s not enough.

“I think if anyone desires and plots to commit mass murder in Canada, they deserve more than eight years in prison,” he said.

Omar will appear in court again Tuesday for his sentencing hearing.

In a news release on Wednesday, Peel police said the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and Ministry of the Attorney General have “consented to the commencement of terrorism proceedings” against Mohammad Moiz Omar.

This isn’t an instance where police have added new charges — but terrorism proceedings being coupled with the court case will allow prosecutors to potentially pursue tougher sentencing submissions, should Omar be found guilty.

Investigators allege that on March 19, Omar entered the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre in Mississauga and sprayed bear spray towards congregants while brandishing a hatchet.

“Our community has a fundamental right, and deserves, to feel safe and secure,” said Peel police Chief Nishan Duraiappah, in a statement.

“Any attempt to jeopardize the safety of our community will be met with every effort to bring those responsible to justice.”

Police say Omar’s offences “constitute terrorist activity” under Canada’s criminal code. His charges include:

  • Two counts of assault with a weapon.
  • Administering a noxious substance with intent to endanger life or cause bodily harm.
  • Possession of a weapon for a purpose dangerous to the public.
  • Uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm.
  • Carrying concealed weapons.
  • Mischief to religious property.

“This incident has deeply impacted Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre members and carries rippling impacts throughout our community,” Duraiappah said. “People should expect to be able to gather peacefully and safely without fear.

“Our service is committed to continue to working with our partners and the community to ensure that hate and violence have no place in our community.”

In a statement issued by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), the mosque’s imam, Ibrahim Hindy, said this incident illustrates how violent Islamophobia is an existential threat to members of the community.

“I hope today will be the first step towards justice when it comes to this shocking and violent incident that could have been so much worse if it weren’t for the courage of our community members,” he said, referring to congregants who tackled the alleged attacker and subdued him before police arrived.

The NCCM also noted that these new proceedings were agreed to in court just two days after the first anniversary of a truck attack where four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont. were killed. Police believe the driver deliberately targeted the family because of their faith. 

“This isn’t the first time that our places of worship have been violated in one way or another,” said NCCM staff lawyer Nusaiba Al-Azem, in a statement.

“Our community needs to heal, but that starts with seeing justice carried through when it comes to the person who could have destroyed so many more lives that morning.”

Al-Azem lauded the Crown’s decision in the case, but also said more needs to be done to combat Islamophobia on the whole.

“We know that we need to continue to engage governments and agencies at all levels to take action to keep our communities safe now and in the future.”.

Fatema Abdalla, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said in an interview outside the mosque that the council welcomes the terrorism proceedings.

“Enough is enough. And it is about time that we see real action. And that is exactly what this is,” she said.

Police believe assault was ‘hate-motivated,’ accused still in custody

A man accused of walking into a mosque west of Toronto and attacking people with bear spray early Saturday morning was not known to congregants, according to the imam.

After his arrest by Peel Regional Police, Mohammad Moiz Omar, 24, appeared in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom on Saturday to answer to multiple charges. He’s still in custody awaiting a bail hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Police say they believe the attack at the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre in Mississauga, Ont., was “hate-motivated.”

“He was not known at all. None of us had seen him when his photo went circulating within our community. Nobody had known him before,” said the mosque’s imam, Ibrahim Hindy, who did not witness the attack. He spoke to CBC News Monday via Zoom from Saudi Arabia, where he is on a pilgrimage.

“I know he’s never been to the mosque because he tried to enter from the wrong door … in a way that anybody who’s been at that mosque knows that that’s not the way to enter.”

The mosque’s administrator, Angie Hindy, describes the attack as “triggering,” in light of previous assaults on Muslims in Canada. It occurred less than a year after four members of a Muslim family, who were out for an evening stroll, were run down and killed by a driver in London, Ont., in what police have called an attack motivated by hate. Muslims are among a number of groups targeted amid a rise in hate crimes in this country.

Members at the centre say the attacker also had an axe.

Noorani Sairally, who said he witnessed the assault, told CBC News the assailant also had a bag containing other weapons, including a knife, goggles, ropes and other sharp objects.

Members say it was a young congregant who noticed the axe in the attacker’s hand and immediately knocked it to the ground. A number of people then wrestled him to the floor and kept him there until police arrived.

Police say Omar is facing several charges, including:

  • Assault with a weapon.
  • Administering a noxious substance with intent to endanger life or cause bodily harm.
  • Possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
  • Uttering threats.
  • Carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Mischief to religious property.

The imam says his mind immediately went to a “worst-case scenario of people being really seriously hurt or even worse than that, loss of lives” when he started receiving messages on his phone that the mosque had been attacked.

He praised the congregants for their bravery and says he is looking forward to returning home from Saudi Arabia and hugging them.

“There was a 19-year-old kid who was there and he was really a hero and deserves to be commended for his bravery, even though he doesn’t want the credits,” Hindy said.

The imam says some of the members suffered minor injuries. One person was struck by the axe while others got hit with bear spray, which left a burning sensation for a few days.

‘Everybody is scared’

The attack has left members “shocked and saddened,” said Angie Hindy.

“Everybody is scared. There were a few kids in the space when this happened, so we immediately reached out to our mental health support organizations that we are usually in contact with to give immediate support to these families,” she said Monday.

“All of us are shaken.”

She says with COVID-19 regulations lifting, people were looking forward to being able to gather again but she fears the attack is likely to discourage that.

“We’re going to be looking at security guards,” she said.

“We have volunteers that are signing up to create a security team … because we know who’s from our community, who’s not, who’s a stranger, who’s not,” she added.

“It also is upsetting because Ramadan is coming up and that is high season for mosques, so now instead of us looking at gathering with friends and families and having our regular operations back in place, we’re going to have to review that.”

Ousama Alsurafha describes the attack as “quite disturbing.”

He’s not a member of the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre but says his children attend a school close by.

“People are definitely a bit shaken by it, which is expected and natural,” Alsurafha said on Monday.

The imam says “these acts tend to try to intimidate people,” but members remain firm on what they believe in and their values. 

“We’re part of the Mississauga community. We’ve been in that location for over 20 years … and we know our neighbours and we love our neighbours as well,” Ibrahim Hindy said. 

“So, we’re not going to be shaken in our faith in fellow Canadians and our resolve to be a part of the community. That’s part of the message I’m trying to deliver to the community and they get it for sure.”

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