Terrorist attack on Quebec City mosque leaves 6 dead, 8 injured

Police on scene during the aftermath of a shooting on a Quebec mosque, January 29, 2017/ Francis Vachon (Canadian Press)

At least one shooter opened fire in a Quebec City mosque on the night of January 29, killing six people and injuring eight others.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke at a press conference on the morning of January 30, and said that he was absolutely “horrified” by the attack.

“We are with you, you are at home, you are welcome at home, we are all Quebecers. Together, we must continue to build a society that’s open, welcoming and peaceful,” Couillard said as he was addressing Quebec’s Muslim population.

Couillard did not hesitate to call the shooting an act of utter terrorism. He said, “we’ll soon know how organized it was, how long ago and by whom, but the fact of the matter is that it’s an organized attack on a specific community, I think anywhere in the world it would qualify as a terrorist act.”

The victims range from the age of 35 to 60, police have confirmed. There were 39 people at the mosque who were not injured. As of 12:30 a.m., Quebec City hospitals confirmed that at least six people were in critical condition.

The victims were at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec for regular evening prayers. The mosque has about 5,000 members and is one of six in the Quebec City region. The shooting occurred around 8:00 p.m.

Azzedine Soufiane was one of the victims. The father of three young children was a well-known figure in the community. “We’ve just lost someone who was very, very nice, a good person … such a loss, someone who was so welcoming, who helped everybody,” said Ali Miladi, speaking to the Montreal Gazette, who knew Soufiane well.

On Monday morning, Quebec’s Human Rights Commission expressed its sympathy to the victims of the attacks and their families. Commission interim-president Camil Picard said, “This terrible attack that targeted people on the basis of their religion is completely unacceptable in our society.” Picard continued, “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects everyone and guarantees their right to equality, their right to security and their right to dignity. The commission strongly condemns any resort to violence.”

The importance of awareness and education when it comes to human rights in the context of acts of hatred and expressions of intolerance was also reiterated. We “must make more efforts toward the integrations and inclusions of all its citizens,” said Picard.

“In a terrorism investigation, there are ideological, religious or political motivations at play,” said RCMP Superintendent Martin Plante. “These are activities pursued by individuals that want to cause worry to the public through a violent act.”

Bystanders stood huddled around the security parameter in the frigid cold, incredulous and unable to believe such a violence could occur in a city with a notoriously low crime rate.

Ben Abdallah, a local Muslim community leader who often prays at the mosque, described the event to the Gazette as catastrophic and said he never thought something like this would happen here, but admits that given the hate circulating the world right now, it seems as though violence and terrorists attack can happen anywhere.

“Six of our brothers… were assassinated [by shots to] the back while praying,” said Abdallah.

“They’ve left orphans. Please spare a thought for them. For the children and for their wives.”

Hamid Nadji had friends who were inside the mosque at the time of the shooting, reported the Gazette. He spoke to them afterwards and described the scene as “a carnage.”

“From what we heard over the phone: one person had a weapon discharged in his face because he wanted to jump on the gunman to stop him. And the three others died because they wanted to catch the man.”

He said that the assailant went into the mosque initially, then left to recharge his weapon and came back in a second time and then a third time.

Abdel Majid Sharif has been worshipping at the Centre for almost 40 years. He said, “There are some people in the world who don’t know the value of a human being or the value of religion. All religions teach is to thank the Lord. Jews do it in their way, Christians in their way, Hindus in their way. We’re all one family. We must respect each other, love each other.”

Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said Sunday’s attack had left him “in total disbelief.” He said in the hours after the attack he contacted other local Muslim centres.

Political leaders condemned the shooting. Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said the city stands with the families of the victims and members of the mosque, and will support them through this “terrible ordeal that defies reason.” He continued, “Quebec is an open-minded city where all people can live together peacefully and respectfully. I urge people to unite and stand together. Quebec is a strong city. Quebec is a proud city. Quebec is a city that is open to the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the act a “cowardly attack” and plans to travel to Quebec City later Monday. Trudeau also plans to make a formal statement about the tragedy in the House of Commons. Newly elected US President Trump called Trudeau to express condolences about the attack. Trudeau’s office says Trump expressed his grief to Trudeau and the Canadian people and offered to provide any assistance needed.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo denounced the attack.

Vigils are planned at mosques in several parts of the country, including Quebec City and Montreal. Members of the Muslim community have condemned the attack and many are calling for tighter security around other mosques in the country.

The Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Ihsaan Gardee, said in a statement that this “act of wanton murder must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We are horrified by this despicable act of violence.”

The mosque has been the target of an apparent hate act last June, when a pig’s head was left outside of the mosque with the message: “Bon appetite.” Devout Muslims do not eat pork, and the incident happened during the holy month of Ramadan, when many fast through the daylight hours.

On Sunday night, police said they had arrested two suspects, Alexandre Bissonette and Mohamed Khadir, shortly after the shooting. During a press conference on Monday, police confirmed that only one man, Bissonette, was a suspect while the other, Khadir, was a witness.

Bissonette is a student of international studies at Laval University,  where he is known as a vocal supporter of French Nationalist Marine Le Pen, and Donald Trump.

Events continue to develop.

 -Loredana Del Bello, Assistant Campus News Editor 

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