OTTAWA: Police stepped up security patrols at mosques across Canada following attacks in New Zealand on Friday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as 'absolutely appalling' -- and which evoked painful memories for Canadians only two years after a similar massacre.
The attacks on the two Christchurch mosques left at least 49 people dead, with the suspect -- 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant -- having live-streamed the assault and published a manifesto online.
"Attacking people during prayers is absolutely appalling, and Canada strongly condemns today's shootings in New Zealand," Trudeau said on Twitter.
"Our thoughts and hearts go out to the victims and their families, and we join New Zealanders and Muslim communities around the world in grieving."
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The flag atop the Canadian parliament was lowered to half-staff in memory of the victims.
Police in Toronto and Montreal -- home to Canada's largest Muslim populations -- told AFP they have stepped up security around the more than 100 mosques in the two metropolitan regions.
"In response to the attacks in New Zealand, we will have a heightened police presence in the community, focusing on places of worship -- especially mosques," Toronto police Constable Allyson Douglas-Cook said.
Similar precautionary measures were taken by authorities in Montreal, Quebec City and elsewhere across the country.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale insisted that "there is no known nexus to Canada and Canada's threat level remains unchanged at 'medium.'"
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However, pictures posted to a social media account of a semi-automatic weapon covered in the names of historical figures, many of whom were involved in the killing of Muslims, included Canadian Alexandre Bissonnette.
Prior to the New Zealand mosques shootings, Canada had seen the worst ever attack on Muslims in the West.
Bissonnette in January 2017 opened fire on worshipers at a Quebec City mosque after evening prayers, killing six men and wounding 35 others.
Both the defense and prosecution are currently appealing the 29-year-old shooter's 40-year prison sentence in that case.
According to his lawyers, Bissonnette "has been very affected by (the New Zealand shooting) and is particularly troubled that his name is associated with this attack."
"Mr Bissonnette deeply regrets the actions he has committed and wants everyone with problems or difficulties to talk about it and get help, something he had not been able to do adequately," Charles-Olivier Gosselin and Jean-Claude Gingras said in a statement on behalf of their client.