QUEBEC CITY: Gunmen stormed into a Quebec mosque during evening prayers and opened fire on dozens of worshippers, killing six and wounding eight in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as a “terrorist attack.”
Some 50 people were in the mosque when the shooting began toward the end of evening prayers, police spokeswoman Christine Coulombe said.
Several minutes later, police descended on the Saint-Foy district – an area packed with offices and shops some 10 kilometres west of the city’s historic center.
The mosque has already been the target of hate: a pig’s head was left on the doorstep last June during Ramadan.
Other mosques in Canada have been targeted with racist graffiti in recent months.
The shooting comes as Canada has vowed to open its arms to Muslims and refugees after US President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration ban Friday prompted travel chaos and outrage around the world.
People fleeing the mosque — where custom requires worshippers to remove their shoes during prayer — ran barefoot through the snow.
“They arrived in a panic,” said Louis-Gabriel Cloutier, the manager of a cafe across the street who watched worshippers fleeing the rampage.
Some took refuge at the cafe.
“I never thought that such a thing could happen,” said a man who frequents another of the city’s 10 mosques. He had ventured to the scene because “I know people who were inside.”
Ambulances treated the wounded at the scene.
Police reconstructing the events later questioned witnesses in a sports center near the mosque.
Trudeau issued a statement saying “we condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge.”
“Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, city and country,” he said.
“It is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence,” he added. “Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said in a series of Twitter posts that the government was “mobilized to ensure the security of the people of Quebec.”
“Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence,” he wrote. “Solidarity with Quebec people of Muslim faith.”
Condemning what he called an “odious attack,” French President Francois Hollande said “it’s the spirit of peace and openness of the people of Quebec that the terrorists wanted to hit.”
Police stationed near the mosque told AFP that they had feared this type of attack “because it’s happening all over the world.”
Canada will offer temporary residence permits to people stranded in the country as a result of Trump’s order, the immigration ministry said Sunday.
Trump has suspended the arrival of all refugees to the United States for at least 120 days and barred entry for 90 days to people from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
According to the latest Canadian census, from 2011, one of five people in the country are foreign-born.
Canada has welcomed more than 39,670 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and early January 2017, according to government figures.
Police were investigating a single suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people, with a second person who was arrested now considered a witness, authorities said.
The sole suspect in the attack on Sunday evening prayers was Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian university student, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The man now considered a witness was of Moroccan descent although his nationality was not immediately known, the source said.
He was named as Mohamed Khadir or Mohammed Belkhadir by media.
Police declined to give details of those arrested or possible motives for the shooting at the mosque, the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec.
Authorities initially said they had arrested two suspects, but in a Twitter message, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that “following the investigation, the second individual is now considered as a witness.”
Police said on Monday morning they were confident no other suspects were involved in the attack. “They consider this a lone wolf situation,” the source said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2017.