Police have made an arrest in connection with the murder of a volunteer caretaker at a Rexdale mosque last weekend but they say that it is too soon to say whether the accused may have also had something to do with the fatal stabbing of a sleeping homeless man beneath a bridge on the nearby West Humber Trail earlier this month.
Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was seated outside the International Muslim Organization (IMO) mosque near Rexdale Boulevard and Bergamot Avenue on the night of Sept. 12 when he was approached and stabbed in the neck while working to ensure that mosque attendees were following public health guidelines.
Following the murder police released surveillance footage of a possible suspect in the case but days went by without an arrest. Then earlier this week police announced that they were investigating a possible connection with the stabbing death of Rampreet (Peter) Singh back on Sept. 7.
Speaking with reporters at a hastily-called news conference on Friday afternoon, Insp. Hank Idsinga confirmed that a 34-year-old man has now been taken into custody in connection with the death of Zafis but he said that police are still working to determine whether there could be a connection with the earlier homicide, which took place about five kilometres away but shared a number of similarities.
“It is too soon. The investigation is still very active. I have about 14 investigators right now in and around 23 Division and it is going to take some time,” he said. “There’s several different avenues that we’re exploring and the forensic evidence will obviously as well take some time before we can make some conclusions on that other investigation.”
No known relationship between suspect and victim
Hundreds of mourners attended a funeral for Zafis earlier this week, remembering the 58-year-old as a “kind, gentle soul” who spent years volunteering at a nearby food bank and recently organized a drive-thru barbecue for kids in the neighbourhood.
Community member of the IMO, Sadruddin Usman, told CP24 that the police should consider the violent act as a hate crime.
“Given what we have heard from the investigation and from what we have seen, we felt that it would be important for us, to at least from an organization point of view, to get in front of the community with what our position would be as members of the administration, which is simply to ask the police to pursue it as a hate crime,” Usman said.
Those close to Zafis also expressed shock that a man who dedicated his life to faith and helping others could meet such a violent end.
“The way in which Mr. Mohamed passed away was indeed very tragic… a stabbing to the side of the neck or to the heart is just got to be a horrible way to pass away,” Usman said.
Police have not released a motive for the horrific crime.
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“At this stage of the investigation there does not appear to be any motive and there does not appear to be any known relationship between the accused and our victim,” Idsinga said on Friday, further exacerbating the mystery around the homicide.
Idsinga was asked whether the incident could be investigated as a hate crime and acknowledged that it was something that police were “open minded to” but weren’t necessarily honing in on at this time.
As for whether the accused could be considered a suspect in the earlier homicide, Idsinga said that he is “not willing to attach that label to him at this point.”
“As soon as we’re able to do something like that we’ll definitely put it out to the public,” he said.
Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, 34, is charged with first-degree murder.
No details have been released about when he will appear in court.
In a press release issued on Friday, the IMO said it “thanks the Toronto Police Service, and calls for the murder to be treated as a potentially hate-motivated crime.”
The IMO is hosting a vigil for Zafis on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the parking lot of the IMO mosque, at 65 Rexdale Boulevard.
With files from The Canadian Press
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