Six people were killed and eight others injured, including five in a critical condition, when two gunmen opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City of eastern Canada on Sunday evening, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denouncing the shooting as a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.
One suspect was arrested at the scene and the second surrendered to police.
While the suspects were not identified by the police at a press conference on Monday morning, Radio-Canada reported their sources named the two persons arrested as Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed Khadir. As the day progressed, reports indicated that Bissonnette was the sole suspect while Khadir had called the police. Both were also reportedly students at the Université Laval, though the University has not confirmed that detail. Both are apparently in their late 20s or early 30s. While Khadir was detained by police in the vicinity of the mosque, Bissonnette escaped in a vehicle and was captured following a chase.
However, later the Surete de Quebec, the provincial police, stated that “only one of the individuals arrested” was “considered a suspect.” The other person in custody is reportedly a witness..
Khadir was arrested in the vicinity of the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, while Bissonnette escaped in a vehicle and was detained later in nearby Ile d’Orleans and weapons were found in his vehicle, a black Mitsubishi.
The victims too were not identified though they were all male, aged between 35 and 60 and of North African and African origin.
In a statement, Canadian 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.”
Please read my statement on tonight’s terrorist attack in Quebec City: https://t.co/58NRcOAUmB— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 30, 2017
Trudeau was scheduled to visit Quebec City along with Opposition leaders after making a statement at the Canadian House of Commons on Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, United States President Donald Trump called Trudeau to express his condolences over the tragedy.
Police in 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”.
Trudeau was in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, on Monday morning and cancelled a scheduled event as he was regularly briefed by his national security team on developments related to the attack.
The two masked gunmen burst into the mosque in Sainte-Foy neighbourhood as evening prayers were ending and opened fire. The victims were men praying on the main floor of the mosque even as women and children had gathered on an upper floor. Nearly 40 people escaped the shooting.
Islamic Cultural Center had been the target of a hate crime last summer during the holy month of Ramzan, when a pig’s head was placed outside its door.
Security at mosques in Quebec and other Canadian provinces and cities such as Toronto was heightened after the attack. Vigils in memory of the victims have been planned across the country.
The province’s premier (the equivalent of chief minister), Philippe Couillard, said that “Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence”.
Anti-terrorism protocols were established and, according to the French-language La Presse, the Police Management Structure Against Terrorism (TPCMS) had been “activated”. The Surete de Quebec placed a command center at the scene and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will lead the investigation.
The shootings came hours after Trudeau welcomed immigrants to Canada, striking a sharp contrast with US President Donald Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries.
Trump suspended the arrival of refugees to the US 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.
Canadian Muslims React
Canadian Muslim groups were stunned by the attack on the mosque in Quebec City. In a joint statement, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and AMAL-Québec expressed “outrage” at the attack.
NCCM’s executive director Ihsaan Gardee said they were “horrified” by this “despicable act of violence”. He added, “This act of wanton murder must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Council also sought an increase in patrols and security around mosques and Islamic centers in the country.
AMAL-Quebec’s president, Haroun Bouazzi, said, “Quebec Muslims are frightened right now. We are urgently waiting for answers as to how and why such a tragedy could occur.”