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.
Man expressed hatred for Islam: court document
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.”
Could have been Quebec mosque-style attack: advocate
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.