MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — A man is facing several charges after police say worshippers at a Mississauga, Ont., mosque were attacked with bear spray in what is believed to be a "hate-motivated incident."
Peel Regional Police said someone walked into the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre early Saturday and discharged bear spray toward people while brandishing a hatchet. Some members of the mosque tackled and subdued a suspect.
Mohammad Moiz Omar, 24, was charged with 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 a threat to cause death or bodily harm, carrying a concealed weapon and mischief to religious property.
Police said he was held for a bail hearing and appeared in court in Brampton.
Speaking on behalf of the mosque, Nadia Hasan of the National Council of Canadian Muslims said a group of about 20 men were in the middle of a dawn prayer, called Fajr, when the attack happened.
"Some of the men turned around and they very bravely decided that they were not going to let him attack them," she said. "And they tackled him to the ground and apprehended him until the police showed up."
Police said some congregants at the mosque received minor injuries as a result of the bear spray.
People were shaken up but are recovering, Hasan said.
"For the most part, folks are still processing what's happened and are trying to kind of see how they can ensure that their communities remain secure."
The mosque was looking into offering grief counselling and other mental health supports to help those affected process and heal from what happened, she said.
"The men who took down the assailant are people who … are kind of like the heroes who we didn't know we needed.
"They're absolutely amazing in what they did and I think they saved a lot of people from possibly being injured or worse."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Twitter, called the attack "incredibly disturbing."
"I strongly condemn this violence — which has no place in Canada — and I’m keeping the community in my thoughts today," he said. "I also want to applaud the courage of those who were there this morning."
Premier Doug Ford also lent his support.
"I am incredibly grateful for their heroism, and my heart goes out to the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre community who were attacked this morning," he tweeted. "There is NO place in our province for such evil and hateful acts. We must ensure those responsible are brought to justice."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press