MISSISSAUGA, Ont. _ A blast that left 15 people injured at a busy Indian restaurant west of Toronto is not believed to be a hate crime or an act of terrorism, authorities said Friday as they searched for two men thought to be behind the explosion.
Police called Thursday night’s blast at the Bombay Bhel restaurant in Mississauga, Ont., an isolated incident and said they had no information suggesting a current threat to public safety.
Two birthday parties were taking place at the restaurant _ and about 40 people were inside _ when an improvised explosive device went off, but police said none of the young children present were hurt.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who visited the site of the explosion Friday, said she was shocked at the brazenness of the incident.
“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,” a visibly emotional Crombie said.
“You will be found and you will be brought to justice…. This does not happen in my Mississauga.”
Police said two men walked into the restaurant, located near Hurontario Street and Eglinton Avenue, around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, detonated an explosive device, then fled the scene on foot before jumping into an unidentified vehicle.
Those injured in the explosion ranged in age from 23 to 69, police said. Three of the victims had initially been listed in critical condition, but by Friday afternoon, police said all had been released from hospital.
“There’s no indication that this is a terrorist act. There’s no indication that this is a hate crime,” Peel regional police Chief Jennifer Evans said outside the plaza where the restaurant is located. “At this time we haven’t ruled anything out as we start our investigation.”
The area outside the restaurant remained taped off Friday afternoon. Officers also examined a scene a few hundred metres away, looking at footprints in a new residential development.
The restaurant issued a brief Facebook statement describing the attack as “extremely horrific and sad” and thanking those who expressed their support.
Sanjiv Jagota, who owns a nearby store, was driving by the area Thursday night when he saw a number of emergency vehicles. Jagota said he’s good friends with Bombay Bhel’s owner, and he stood outside the police tape with the 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, described the owner as a “super gentleman” and said the restaurant was popular with all demographics in the diverse community.
“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 flower shop in the plaza, only learned about the attack Friday morning. 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. “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. They said members of the community were co-operating with authorities, and noted that Peel regional officers were working with the RCMP and forces from around the Greater Toronto Area as the search for the men continues.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday evening that OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes has offered the services of the Ontario Provincial Police to help with the investigation.
The Indian consulate in Toronto set up a hotline for those affected by the blast, with Consul Davinder Pal Singh explaining 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, who are in the midst of an election campaign, issued statements of support and sympathy for those affected.
“(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 Wynne, who took time from campaigning for a security briefing on the incident. She noted that the explosion comes barely a month after 10 people died in a van attack in north Toronto.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed his support for the injured and wished them a swift recovery.
_ with files from Michelle McQuigge in Toronto.