QUEBEC CITY (AFP, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST) – Six people were killed and eight wounded when gunmen opened fire at a Quebec mosque on Sunday, in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country.”
Police said two suspects had been arrested, but gave no details about them or what prompted the “terrorist attack”, saying the investigation had just begun.
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 eight people were wounded and 39 were unharmed.
A heavily armed police tactical squad was earlier seen entering the three-storey mosque. Police tweeted later that the situation was under control and that the mosque had been secured and occupants evacuated.
ATTACK COMES AFTER CANADA'S VOW TO WELCOME REFUGEES
The shooting is a particular shock for Quebec City, a quiet white-collar city with a low crime rate.
It came on the weekend that Trudeau said Canada would welcome refugees, after US President Donald Trump suspended the US refugee program and temporarily barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States on national security grounds.
Canada will offer temporary residence permits to people stranded in the country as a result of Trump’s order, the immigration ministry said on Sunday.
“Let me assure those who may be stranded in Canada that I will use my authority as minister to provide them with temporary residency if needed as we have done in the past,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said at a news conference.
Trump has suspended the arrival of all refugees to the US 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.
Hussen, who is of Somali origin, did not condemn the US measure but stressed that Canada would continue to pursue an immigration policy based on “compassion” while at the same time protecting the security of its citizens.
“We welcome those fleeing persecution, terror and war,” he said, echoing a welcoming Twitter post by Trudeau on Saturday.
According to the latest Canadian census, from 2011, one out 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.
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”.
A Canadian federal Liberal legislator, Greg Fergus, tweeted:“This is an act of terrorism – the result of years of sermonising Muslims. Words matter and hateful speeches have consequences!”
“Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families,” Trudeau tweeted earlier in the night.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said police were providing additional protection for mosques in that city following the Quebec shooting. “All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something,” he tweeted.
French President Francois 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”.
Singapore strongly condemned the attack, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement. Calling it a "heinous attack", a spokesman for the MFA said: "There can be no justification for an attack on a sacred place of worship. We extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved families."
‘NOT SAFE HERE’
The mosque's president, Mohamed Yangui, who was not inside the mosque when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers.
"Why is this happening here? This is barbaric," he said.
Like France, Quebec has struggled at times to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population, many of them North African emigrants.
In June 2016, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the cultural centre.
“We are not safe here,” said Mohammed Oudghiri, who normally attends prayers at the mosque in the middle-class, residential area, but 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 RARE
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 centres throughout the mostly French-language province.
“It’s a sad day for all Quebecers and Canadians to see a terrorist attack happen in peaceful Quebec City,” said Mohamed Yacoub, co-chairman of an Islamic community centre 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 vast 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 neighbouring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015, a day after an attack by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris.
Zebida Bendjeddou, who left the mosque earlier on Sunday evening, said the centre had received threats. “In June, they’d put a pig’s head in front of the mosque. But we thought: ‘Oh, they’re isolated events.’ We didn’t take it seriously. But tonight, those isolated events, they take on a different scope,” she said.
Bendjeddou said she had not confirmed the names of those killed, but added: “They’re people we know, for sure. People we knew since they were little kids.”