QUEBEC CITY -- A shooting at a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers left six people dead in an attack that Canada’s prime minister called an act of terrorism. Court documents say the suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, has been charged with six counts of murder.
Police initially detained two people, including one who called 911 to say he was armed but ready to give himself up. Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec tweeted early Monday afternoon that only one of the two people detained was now considered a suspect.
More than 50 people were at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre when the shooting erupted Sunday night. In addition to the six who died, five were in critical condition and 12 others suffered minor injuries, University of Quebec Hospital Centre spokeswoman Genevieve Dupuis said Monday. The dead ranged in age from age 35 to 65.
One person was detained at the scene and another in his car nearby on a bridge near d’Orleans, where he called 911 to say he wanted to cooperate with police. Police said they did not believe there were other suspects but were investigating. Police said the witness and suspect were in their late 20s or early 30s and had no prior police records.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard both characterized the attack as a terrorist act, which came amid heightened tensions worldwide over President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim countries.
“This was a group of innocents targeted for practicing their faith,” Trudeau said Monday, speaking before the House of Commons.
He condemned the “despicable act of terror” and vowed, “We will get to the bottom of this.”
Speaking directly to Canada’s Muslim community, Trudeau said, “we are with you.”
“36 million hearts are breaking with yours – know that we value you,” Trudeau said. “You enrich our shared community in immeasurable ways. It is your home.”
The leaders of many nations, and the Vatican, expressed sorrow and solidarity with Canada over the attack, and President Trump called Trudeau to express condolences, according to the Associated Press.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said in an earlier statement. “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.
“Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country,” he said.
Canada is generally very welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but the French-speaking province of Quebec has had a long-simmering debate about race and religious accommodation. The previous separatist government of the province called for a ban on certain religious symbols, such as the hijab, in public institutions.
In the summer of 2016 a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in the middle of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Practicing Muslims do not eat pork.
“The Muslim community was the target of this murderous attack,” Couillard said at an early morning news conference. He said solidarity rallies would be held across Quebec on Monday.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, appearing shaken, said, “No person should have to pay with their life, for their race, their color, their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs,” Labeaume said.
Cultural Centre President Mohamed Yangui said the shooting occurred in the men’s section of the mosque. He said he wasn’t at the center when the attack occurred, but he got some details from people on the scene.
Ali Hamadi said he left the mosque a few minutes before the shooting and said a friend, Abdelkrim Hassen was killed. He said Hassen, who worked in information technology for the government, had three daughters and a wife, whom he had to notify of the death.
Quebec City police spokesman Constable Pierre Poirier said the mosque had been evacuated and the situation was under control.
Trudeau had earlier reacted to Mr. Trump’s visa ban for people from some Muslim-majority countries by tweeting Saturday: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”
Trudeau also posted a picture of himself greeting a Syrian child at Toronto’s airport in late 2015. Trudeau oversaw the arrival of more than 39,000 Syrian refugees soon after he was elected.
The mayor of Gatineau, Quebec, near Canada’s capital of Ottawa, said there would be an increased police presence at mosques around his city following the attack.
The New York Police Department also said it was stepping up patrols at mosques and other houses of worship.
“NYPD is providing additional protection for mosques in the city. All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter.
“Our prayers tonight are with the people of Quebec City as they deal with a terrible attack on a mosque. We must stand together,” de Blasio said in another tweet.
Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said on Twitter Sunday that he was deeply saddened by the loss of life. His office said no motive had been confirmed.
Francois Deschamps, an organizer of a refugee-support group in Quebec City, said the motive for Sunday’s attack was unknown, but right-wing groups are very organized in Quebec City, distributing fliers at the university and plastering stickers around town.
Deschamps said he has received death threats after starting a refugee support group on Facebook and people have posted his address online.
“I’m not very surprised about the event,” Deschamps said.
The Canadian Council of Imams said in a statement that “Islamophobia has killed innocent Canadians.”
“We ask all decent people to stand against hatred of Islam and Muslims in any forum,” the statement read.
“Our message to anyone in the Canadian Muslim community who may experience Islamophobia is not to suffer in silence.”
Pope Francis condemned the Quebec mosque attack and called for mutual respect among people of different faiths.
Francis conveyed his condolences in writing and in person to the archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Gerald LaCroix, who was in Rome on Monday and returned immediately to Canada.
In the telegram, Francis says he is praying for those killed and injured, as well as those who responded to the bloodshed. It says: “The Holy Father firmly condemns the violence that engenders such suffering, and begs the Lord for the gift of mutual respect and peace.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman is condemning the “despicable” attack at a Quebec City mosque.
Spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader was shocked by the shooting during Sunday evening prayers that left six people dead.
Seibert said Monday: “If the killers intended to set people of different faiths against each other or to divide them, they must not and will not succeed in that. We stand in mourning beside the Muslim community in Quebec.”
French President Francois Hollande condemned the “odious attack” on a Quebec mosque and offered support for Canada’s leaders.
Hollande, whose country has suffered a string of Islamic extremist attacks, said in a statement that, “it was the Quebecois spirit of peace and openness that the terrorists wanted to harm” in Sunday’s attack.
Hollande said “France stands at the sides of the victims and their families,” and offered solidarity for Couillard and Trudeau.
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