Canadian PM: Mosque Shooting a ‘Terrorist Attack on Muslims’

QUEBEC CITY (Reuters) -
Police officers patrol the perimeter near a mosque after a shooting in Quebec City, last Sunday. (Reuters/Mathieu Belanger)

Six people were killed and eight wounded when terrorists opened fire at a Quebec City mosque during Sunday night prayers, in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “terrorist attack on Muslims.”

Police said two suspects had been arrested, but gave no details about them or what prompted the attack.

Initially, the mosque president said five people were killed and a witness said up to three terrorists had fired on about 40 people inside the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center. Police said only two people were involved in the attack.

“Six people are confirmed dead – they range in age from 35 to about 70,” Quebec provincial police spokeswoman Christine Coulombe told reporters, adding that eight people were wounded and 39 were unharmed.

The mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui, who was not inside when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers.

“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement: “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, cities and country.”

The shooting came on the weekend that Trudeau said Canada would welcome refugees, after President Donald Trump suspended the U.S. refugee program and temporarily barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States on national security grounds.

The premier of Quebec Province, Philippe Couillard, said security would be increased at mosques in Quebec City and Montreal.

“We are with you. You are home,” Couillard said, directing his comments at the province’s Muslim community. “You are welcome in your home. We are all Quebecers. We must continue together to build an open, welcoming and peaceful society.”

French President François Hollande condemned the attack.

“The terrorists wanted to attack the spirit of peace and tolerance of the citizens of Quebec,” Hollande said in a statement on Monday. “France stands shoulder to shoulder with the victims and their families.”

Like France, Quebec has struggled at times to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population, many of them from North Africa.

“We are not safe here,” said Mohammed Oudghiri, who normally attends prayers at the mosque in the middle-class, residential area, but did not on Sunday.

Oudghiri said he had lived in Quebec for 42 years but was now “very worried” and thinking of moving back to Morocco.

Mass shootings are rare in Canada, which has stricter gun laws than the United States, and news of the shooting sent a shockwave through mosques and community centers throughout the mostly French-speaking province.

“It’s a sad day for all Quebecers and Canadians to see a terrorist attack happen in peaceful Quebec City,” said Mohamed Yacoub, cochairman of an Islamic community center in a Montreal suburb.

“I hope it’s an isolated incident.”

Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. The face-covering, or niqab, became a big issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election, especially in Quebec, where the majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies.

In 2013 police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of the province was splattered with what was believed to be pig blood. In the neighboring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015, a day after an attack by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris.