OTTAWA • Two suspects were in custody yesterday, one of whom was said to be of Moroccan heritage, after a shooting at a Quebec City mosque left six people dead and eight injured.
Mohamed Khadir, whose nationality was not known, and Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian, were arrested after the shooting on Sunday at the Islamic Cultural Centre in a busy district of Quebec City.
At least one of the suspects in the attack was a student at nearby Universite Laval, according to Canadian media.
The police declined to give details of the suspects' identities or possible motives for the attack which took place during evening prayers.
"Legal procedures are now under way and we cannot make any comment on the identity of the suspects," Royal Canadian Mounted Police national security superintendent Martin Plante told a news conference.
Singapore strongly condemns attack
President Tony Tan Keng Yam has written a letter to the Governor-General of Canada, Mr David Lloyd Johnston, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Canadian counterpart, Mr Justin Trudeau, to convey Singapore's condolences over the attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City.
"On behalf of the people of Singapore, I offer our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims," Dr Tan wrote in his letter to Mr Johnston. "Singapore strongly condemns the shooting which took place at a sacred place of worship during prayers. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Canadian people during this challenging period."
In his letter to Mr Trudeau, Mr Lee wrote: "I was shocked by the deadly shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan 29, 2017, during evening prayers... On behalf of the Government of Singapore, I offer our deepest condolences to the bereaved families. Our thoughts are with the Canadian people."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press statement issued yesterday that it had contacted the four registered Singaporeans in Quebec and ascertained that they were safe.
The ministry advised Singaporeans in Canada to exercise vigilance and take precautions for their safety.
It also asked them to keep in touch with their family and friends "so that they know you are safe".
Singaporeans requiring consular assistance have been directed to contact the 24-hour MFA Duty Office.
He added that the suspects were not previously known to police.
One suspect was arrested at the mosque, where police were called at about 8pm local time, while the other turned himself in about an hour later, said Quebec City Police inspector Denis Turcotte.
The police said they were confident there were no other suspects involved in the attack.
A police spokesman said about 50 people were in the mosque when the shooting began at around 7.30pm on Sunday (8.30am Singapore time yesterday), towards the end of evening prayers.
A few minutes later, the police descended on the Saint-Foy district - an area packed with offices and shops some 10km west of the city's historic centre.
Mr Martin Coiteux, Minister of Public Safety, said on Twitter that "the police systems for dealing with terrorist acts have been activated" in the wake of the shooting.
The police said the condition of some of the eight injured was "very grave", and that the victims were all aged between about 35 and 70.
Police officers stationed near the mosque said they had feared this type of attack "because it's happening all over the world".
The mosque has already been a target of hate: A pig's head was left on the doorstep last June during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Other mosques in Canada have also seen racist graffiti in recent months.
The attack comes as Canada has vowed to open its arms wide to Muslims and refugees after US President Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban last Friday. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Twitter post last Saturday that his country would welcome those fleeing persecution, "regardless of your faith".
The Immigration Ministry said on Sunday that Canada would offer temporary residence permits to people stranded in the country as a result of Mr Trump's order.
Mr Trudeau yesterday assailed what he called "this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge". "It is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence," he said in a statement early yesterday. "Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear."
In the wake of the Quebec City shooting, the New York City police stepped up protection of mosques, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS