Hunt underway for two suspects connected to Mississauga, Ont., blast

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Police are actively hunting for two suspects believed to be behind an explosion that rocked an Indian restaurant west of Toronto, sending 15 people to hospital, the chief of the investigating force said Friday.

Jennifer Evans of Peel Region police said the investigation into Thursday night’s blast at the Bombay Bhel restaurant in Mississauga, Ont., is in its early stages, but said the incident is not believed to be a hate crime or an act of terrorism.

“This is a really serious investigation,” Evans said outside the plaza where the restaurant is located. “We want to take our time, make sure we’re very methodical in it. So we’re putting a lot of resources into this right now.”

Police said there was no information to suggest there was a threat to public safety, noting that they believed the blast was an isolated incident.

The two men suspected in the case walked into the restaurant, located near Hurontario Street and Eglinton Avenue, around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday as two separate groups were holding birthday parties, Evans said.

The hoodie-clad suspects were seen carrying an “improvised explosive device” and fled the scene in an unidentified vehicle, Evans said.

The resulting explosion injured 15 people ranging in age from 23 to 69, Evans said, adding they were taken to three different hospitals in the area.

While three of those injured — a 35-year-old Brampton man and Mississauga women aged 48 and 62 — were originally listed in critical condition, Evans said they had since been upgraded to stable. The other 12 victims have been treated and released, she added.

Evans said children under the age of 10 were present at the time of the explosion, though none of them were hurt.

The presence of youngsters was particularly shocking to Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who said the brazenness of the incident resonated with her as a mother.

“It is a heinous, reprehensible act, committed by cowards who would come into a restaurant where people are vulnerable, celebrating with their families, where children are present,” Crombie said, shaking as she spoke. “Whoever has committed this heinous act needs to answer for their crimes.”

The area outside the restaurant remained taped off Friday morning as police continued their investigation, and the plaza it was in was shuttered for business. Officers were also examining a scene a few hundred metres away, looking at footprints in a new residential development.

Evans said the restaurant sustained significant damage, though none was visible from the outside. She did not offer details as to the makeup of the explosive device or where exactly it was detonated.

The restaurant issued a brief Facebook statement describing the attack as “extremely horrific and sad” and thanking those who expressed their support.

Andre Larrivee, who lives in a nearby condominium building, said he had been watching television on Thursday night when he heard an explosion.

“It was really loud,” he said, comparing the noise to an electric generator that had blown up at a nearby construction site recently.

Sanjiv Jagota, who owns a nearby store, was driving by the area last night when he saw a number of emergency vehicles.

Jagota said he’s good friends with Bombay Bhel’s owner and stood outside the police tape line with owner’s son.

“My main concern is that they’re OK,” he said, noting that the restaurant opened in the mid-1990s. “This place is like their baby.”

Rohan Jumani, a regular Bombay Bhel patron, said he stopped by the restaurant out of concern for the area and the people who frequent it.

Describing the owner as a “super gentleman” who oversees a restaurant that’s popular with all demographics in the diverse community, Jumani said the attack is unsettling for the neighbourhood.

“It’s a very family-friendly area,” he said. “We are very concerned about these kinds of incidents now happening.”

Barbara Sawala, who owns a local flower shop in the plaza, only learned about the attack on Friday morning as she was preparing to come to work to prepare corsages for two teenage girls attending their prom.

She said the restaurant frequently bought rose petals from her business for use in traditional Indian ceremonies.

“You are not supposed to be exposed to things like that,” Sawala said of the attack. “We are working here, we live in a very close-knitted community with the plaza. This is very sad.”

Police have released photos of the two suspects and urged anyone with information to come forward. Peel region officers are working with the RCMP and forces from around the Greater Toronto Area as the search for the men continues.

The Indian Consulate General set up a hotline for those impacted by the blast, with Consul Davinder Pal Singh explaining that the move was standard procedure when Indian nationals may be involved in an incident abroad. He added that no one has reached out for help so far.

“It’s an unfortunate thing to happen anywhere in this world,” he said. ”We offer heartfelt support to those who need support from the consulate.”

The leaders of Ontario’s three main political parties, all in the midst of an election campaign, issued statements of sympathy and solidarity for those affected by the blast.

“(It’s) shocking and a fearful incident and not at all the kind of thing that any of us could expect in our lives if we’re out with our families at a restaurant enjoying ourselves,” said Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, who took time from campaigning for a security briefing on the incident.

Wynne noted that the explosion comes barely a month after a van attack in north Toronto left 10 people dead. She described the two “shocking incidents” as worrisome while affirming faith in local first responders.

A tweet of support also came from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We’re in solidarity with the victims of this violence, and wish a swift recovery to the injured,” he wrote. ”We’re working closely with police and officials in Mississauga on this.”

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