Worshipers at an Ontario mosque arrest an attacker armed with an ax and bear spray

A man entered a mosque in Mississauga, Ont., west of Toronto, on Saturday morning and attacked those gathered for Fajr, the dawn prayer, with bear spray, police said Region of Peel, adding that the man was “also brandishing a hatchet”.

Police were called to the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Center near McAdam Road and Matheson Boulevard East around 7 a.m.

Peel Police say a 24-year-old man has been arrested and investigators are “looking into all possible motivations, including hate motivation”. Charges have not yet been filed.

Some people suffered “minor injuries” from the pepper spray, according to a press release from Peel Police.

Police said the incident “appears” isolated, but officers will remain in the area to provide support and reassure the community.

At around 11 a.m., the mosque’s imam, Ibrahim Hindy, tweeted the attack.

The man entered with an axe, pepper spray and other “edge weapons”, Hindy said.

“Several worshipers bravely managed to stop him in his tracks,” he said. “Our community will never be broken and we refuse to be bullied.”

“People are obviously quite shaken up”

Nadia Hasan, chief operating officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said about 20 people were in the mosque at the time.

“A number of men who were there for prayer approached [the armed man] and they apprehended him until the police arrived,” she said.

Hasan said there were remnants of bear spray in the building, still causing people to cough Saturday afternoon.

“People are obviously pretty shaken up and recovering,” she said.

“But I think for the most part people are still processing what happened and sort of trying to figure out how they can make sure their communities stay safe.”

Nadia Hasan, chief operating officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, speaks with reporters outside the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Center in Mississauga on Saturday morning. (Michael Cole/CBC)

Hasan said the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Center remained open on Saturday and police would be there “at short notice” to ensure other prayer times can go ahead safely.

She said the mosque is considering offering bereavement counseling and other mental health support to help those affected and heal from what happened, while police continue their investigation.

“They don’t know what motivated this person to do what he did, but they obviously have a lot of questions about, you know, why it happened, why it happened to them, why this particular community ?” Hasan said.

The imam said the center would provide further comments when more information became available on the attack. He urged Peel Police “to continue to investigate from all angles”.

Hasan echoed Hindy’s plea, telling CBC News, “We’re waiting to hear more about the motivation.”

PM calls incident ‘incredibly disturbing’

Premier Doug Ford said on Twitter that there is no place in Ontario for “such evil and heinous acts.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tweeted on Saturday afternoon, describing the attack as “incredibly disturbing.”

Anyone with information about the attack is urged to contact investigators.

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