Six people were killed and eight others injured when two gunmen opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City of eastern Canada on Sunday evening, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning the shooting as a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.
More than 50 people were at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec when the shooting erupted. The dead ranged in age from 35 to 70. Five people are in critical condition and 12 others sustained minor injuries, a University of Quebec Hospital Centre spokeswoman said.
One suspect was arrested at the scene and the second suspect called police from his car, saying he was armed but wanted to surrender. He was arrested in nearby Ile d’Orleans and a cache of AK-47s and handguns was found in his vehicle, a black Mitsubishi.
One of the attackers was said to be of Moroccan origin, according to a report that was not confirmed by police. Both suspects were reportedly students at the Université Laval. An eyewitness quoted in media reports said the attackers spoke with a Quebec accent and shouted “Allah-u-Akbar” before firing.
Police did not release names of the suspects or give a motive. The police force of the city, which is the capital of Quebec province, said the situation was “under control, the places are secure and the occupants were evacuated” and that an investigation “is ongoing”.
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge.”
He added: “While authorities are still investigating and details continue to be confirmed, it is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.”
He also tweeted: “Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families.”
Please read my statement on tonight’s terrorist attack in Quebec City: https://t.co/58NRcOAUmB— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 30, 2017
The victims were reportedly all men praying on the main floor of the mosque even as women gathered on an upper floor and children played in the basement. Nearly 40 persons escaped the shooting.
The attack occurred at around 8 pm, soon after a few dozen congregants at the mosque in Sainte-Foy neighbourhood had completed evening prayers.
The province’s premier (the equivalent of chief minister), Philippe Couillard, said that “Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence”.
The Islamic centre had been the target of a hate crime last summer during the holy month of Ramzan, when a pig’s head had been placed outside its door.
Police have not ruled out the possibility of a third person being involved in the attack. Anti-terrorism protocols were established and a wide perimeter around the mosque was secured by police.
According to the French-language La Presse, the Police Management Structure Against Terrorism (TPCMS) had been “activated” while the Surete de Quebec is placing a command center at the scene and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will lead the investigation with its Integrated National Security Team.
The shootings came hours after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed immigrants to Canada, striking a sharp contrast with Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim country.
“We are not safe here,” said Mohammed Oudghiri, who normally attends prayers at the mosque but not on Sunday.
Oudghiri said he had lived in Quebec for 42 years but was now “very worried” and thinking of moving back to Morocco.
Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. The face-covering, or niqab, became a big issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election, especially in Quebec, where the vast majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies.
In 2013, police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of the province was splattered with what was believed to be pig blood. In the neighbouring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015, a day after an attack by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris.
Trump suspended the arrival of refugees to the United States for at least 120 days, with those from Syria barred indefinitely. He also blocked entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for the next three months.
According to the latest Canadian census, from 2011, one out of five people in the country are foreign-born.
Canada has welcomed more than 39,670 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and the beginning of this January, according to government figures.
(With inputs from agencies)