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Quebec mosque attack: What we know

POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The suspect in a fatal attack in a Quebec mosque that killed six people and seriously injured another five was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder charges in Quebec City late Monday afternoon.

Police first believed two people were involved in Sunday's terror attack at the Centre Cultural Islamique de Quebec in Quebec City's Ste-Foy neighbourhood. However, one of the men arrested near the mosque was a witness who reportedly fled the scene in the midst of the police operation.

The suspect in the fatal event is Alexandre Bissonnette, a Université Laval student.

Earlier Monday, police would not confirm the man's identity because charges hadn't yet been laid.

Monday morning during a news conference involving the Sûreté du Québec, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Quebec City police and Montreal police, authorities said the suspect called police to surrender, "was armed and spoke to us about his acts."


Alexandre Bissonnette is pictured in a Facebook photo. (Facebook)

The second man arrested Sunday night but later released is speaking out about what happened.

Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student, told La Presse that he was trying to provide first aide to shooting victims when police mistook him for a suspect. But he doesn’t hold it against police.

Belkhadir, who had called 911 after hearing 15 to 20 seconds of gunfire, said he fled when he saw someone with a firearm. He thought it was the shooter; in fact, it was a police officer.

"I understand, I respect, that they caught me,” he told La Presse. "They saw me flee, they thought I was suspicious, that's normal. For them, someone who flees is a suspect."

ALEXANDRE BISSONNETTE

A home on Tracel St. in the Cap-Rouge district of Quebec City was among the places where the police conducted searches on Monday.

The single-family dwelling appears to belong to Bissonette’s parents, who bought the property in 1987, real-estate records show.

Bissonnette’s father is listed in the sales deed as an investigator.

A Quebec City Facebook group called Bienvenue aux réfugié said Bissonnette "is unfortunately known to many activists in Quebec City for his positions on identity and his pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist stances at Université Laval and on social networks."

THE VICTIMS

The identities of the six victims was made public Monday evening by the Quebec Coroner's office. All six are men between the ages of 39 and 60 years old.

THE MOSQUE

On Monday morning, a large police perimeter surrounded the mosque where SQ and local police combed the grounds, looking through garbage cans and under cars. Technicians were seen going in and out of the mosque, and a sniffer dog was also used.

Several bouquets of flowers were left on the street across from the mosque.

The victims were fathers, businessmen, a university professor and others who had gathered for evening prayers, a Muslim community leader said Monday as he recalled through tears the horror of the attack that killed six and injured 19 others.

“It’s a very, very big tragedy for us,” said Mohamed Labidi, the vice-president of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, the mosque where the attack happened Sunday night. “We have a sadness we cannot express.”

Labidi said the victims were shot in the back.

“Security at our mosque was our major, major concern,” he said. “But we were caught off guard.”

The Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec issued a statement on Monday morning.

It read, in part: "We were attacked because we are Muslim. Shot at point blank range because we are Muslims. Dead because we are Muslim.

"A scene of unspeakable brutality took place in front of dozens of Quebec citizens, including children. Gunfire, death, reloading of weapons, yelling, wounded people. Blood on the prayer rugs. A scene almost of war, hear, at home, in Quebec, our city known for its tranquility."

THE INJURED

A spokesperson for the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec, Geneviève Dupuis, said Monday morning two people are in critical condition as a result of the Quebec City shooting, and three more are in stable condition and should obtain their leave in the next few days.

Dupuis said Enfant-Jésus Hospital welcomed most of the injured, while three other hospitals treated patients for shock and minor injuries.

Not far, a group of about 12 people, all members of the Muslim community, huddled and talked quietly among themselves.

Anoiar Monadi told the Montreal Gazette he came to the hospital out of concern for his friends, which he called brothers.

In a rare move, the hospital let Monadi and the entire group go up to the second floor, in the trauma department, to visit with at least one of the patients in stable condition.

Monadi said the news was encouraging: “I saw one of my friends, he was shot in the shoulder. He’s in stable condition. He walked to the bathroom and is taking antibiotics. My other friend is also in stable condition, he just has nausea, but I didn’t get to see him because he’s still with police investigators.”

“It’s a tight-knit community, everyone knows everyone, we play soccer together, we attend religious holidays,” Monadi added.

“We never thought we’d see this happen in Quebec City. It’s so sad, everybody’s upset."

Monadi and his brother, Mohammed, said they know at least two of the victims of the shooting — Azzedine Soufiane, they said, was a kind man who always smiled and lent a helping hand, and Abou Bakr Thadti, who trained as a pharmacist in Tunisia, worked at Exceldor, a plant specializing in poultry production.

The Monadis, who went to high school with Thadti, described him as a great travel partner and said they will miss him dearly.

TRUDEAU AND COUILLARD

Speaking in the House of Commons Monday afternoon, Justin Trudeau denounced the "act of brutal violence."

"This was a group of innocents, targeted for practicing their faith," he said. "Make no mistake: this was a terrorist attack. It was an attack on our most intrinsic and cherished values as Canadians, values of openness, diversity and freedom of religion. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims.

"These people were brothers, uncles, fathers and friends, these were people of faith and community and in the blink of an eye they were robbed of their lives in an act of brutal violence."

At the National Assembly in Quebec City, Premier Philippe Couillard appealed to Quebecers to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community and to promote "friendship, mutual understanding, brotherhood among all people."

"We are all Quebecers," Couillard said. "The whole world is watching us. Together, it is time to show who we are, to show the best of ourselves."

He said Quebecers' "cause, the one that drives me, is that of an open and confident society, a welcoming place in which there’s only one level of citizenship."

He urged the people of Quebec to carefully consider what they say and write in the coming days.

"Words spoken, words written, are not trivial," Couillard said. "It is up to each of us to formulate them, to choose them. These words can unite, heal or they can divide and hurt. It’s up to us to choose."

As premier of Quebec, Couillard said he chooses "confidence, openness, a citizenship that is truly and fully shared for all, regardless of the colour of our skin, regardless of our beliefs or of who we love."

The flag above the National Assembly is flying at half-staff. The city of Montreal also lowered the flag above city hall and administrative buildings.

The provincial government has created an online book of condolences to allow the public to pay tribute to victims of the attack.

THE INVESTIGATION

The Bissonnette was not known to police and the investigation into a possible motive continues, said superintendent Martin Plante of the RCMP's C Division.

"We must respect the judicial process, we cannot reveal... identities yet," he said, adding that it was still too early to determine what charges will be laid.

Chief Inspector André Goulet of the SQ said that 75 officers from the force were involved in the investigation and that all patrollers have increased their vigilance, especially around mosques.

He asked anyone with information to call the anonymous tip line at 1 800 659-4264. As of 9 a.m., the line had already received 46 calls by mid-morning, Goulet said.

Assistant director Patrick Lalonde of the Montreal police said that immediately following Sunday night's incident, police contacted Muslim leaders in Montreal and increased police presence around all mosques in the city.

The rector of Université Laval, Denis Brière, and vice-rector Éric Beauce addressed the media Monday morning. There are reports the suspect is a student at the university.

"We can’t confirm it and the police haven’t told us that,” Beauce said.

Beauce said that security has been stepped up at the campus; the university has increased the number of security guards and stepped up patrols.

“We have a large Muslim community here,” he said.

Brière said he was shocked and deeply saddened by the shootings.

“I have no words to describe these cruel events that we condemn loudly this morning,” he said. “We are devastated for the families, those close to the victims, for our Muslim community, our students, teachers and friends.”

The university will provide counselling to any student or staff member who feels they need to speak to someone, he said.

Bouquets lay in the snow near the entrance to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (background) in Quebec City Jan. 30, 2017.

REACTION

• Pope Francis has expressed his condolences.

"Pope Francis stressed the importance of for all, Christians and Muslims, to be united in prayer," the Vatican said in a statement.

"He expresses his profound sympathy for the wounded and their families, and to all who contributed to their aid, asking the Lord to bring them comfort and consolation in the ordeal. The Holy Father again strongly condemns the violence that engenders such suffering; and, imploring God for the gift of mutual respect and peace."

• U.S. President Donald Trump called Justin Trudeau to offer his condolences in the wake of the attack, the prime minister’s office said.

• “Quebec Muslims are frightened right now,” said Haroun Bouazzi, president of AMAL-Quebec, a Muslim human-rights group based on Montreal. “We are urgently waiting for answers as to how and why such a tragedy could occur.”

• Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East called on political leaders to "renounce fear-mongering and incendiary rhetoric disparaging Canada’s Muslim community.”

“The climate towards Muslims in Quebec has been increasingly hostile in recent years,” the group’s president, Thomas Woodley, said in a statement.

“Quebec and national politicians have often fanned the flames of animosity and prejudice towards Muslims, and attacks like these are the tragic and inevitable result.”

The group pointed to actions by previous Parti Québécois and Conservative governments.

The PQ’s proposed Charter of Values in 2013, which would have prohibited public employees from wearing “conspicuous" symbols of Islam and other religions while at work, "exacerbated anti-Muslim currents in the province,” the group said, while “the (Stephen) Harper (Conservative) government, for example, maintained an anti-Muslim immigration policy vis-à-vis Syria.”

• The Montreal Holocaust Museum said "an attack against people gathered in peaceful prayer is an islamophobic assault that concerns all of us.

"The murder of innocent people because of their faith is an assault on values which we hold dear, including freedom of religion and religious expression, the equal rights and protection of minorities, and particularly the sanctity of human life."

The museum said the attack "is a line in the sand. This attack has been perpetrated in a context in which it has become legitimate to spread bigotry and hate, a world which targets minorities and normalises an 'us and them' mentality."

• The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights condemned "the horrific murder and maiming of worshippers."

“These tragic and shocking hate-motivated acts of terror are unacceptable and constitute an attack on the communities themselves thereby diminishing their sense of security and belonging” said Irwin Cotler, the centre's founder and chair.

“We stand in solidarity with those targeted, as we act against all forms of racism, hate, and anti-Muslim bigotry.”

• The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said "Canadian Jewry stands in solidarity with the Muslim community and we say unequivocally that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us."

It called "on Jews across the country to join our Muslim brothers and sisters and all Canadians of good faith and participate in solidarity vigils from coast to coast. Standing together, our determination to reject this hatred, will be the most powerful response to intolerance and violence."

• A vigil for the shooting victims is planned in Montreal at 6 p.m. Monday at the Parc métro station.

• A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to raise $35,000 to pay for funeral expenses.

Within 12 hours, it has raised more than $42,000.

"We know Canadians are generous people," organizers of the campaign said on the GoFundMe fundraising page.

"We know Muslims have a big heart. We all come together in times of crisis. Let us dig a little into your pocket to alleviate the suffering of grieving families who have lost a loved one in this terrorist attack."

• Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante issued a statement Monday morning calling on politicians and citizens to fight against intolerance.

“We can not remain silent in the face of this violence that has its origins in intolerance and hate, inflamed by the types of discourse that is too often treated as normal," Plante said. "We have the obligation, not only in the political sphere, but also as a citizen, to denounce this type of speech, and we also must propose solutions so this violence ends.

“There can not be any political group in Quebec or elsewhere, that welcomes and tolerates the radical ideas that are at the source of this attempt. There can not be a platform to spread hatred of others, no matter their religion, their sexual orientation, the colour of their skin or their gender.

• St-Laurent mayor Alan DeSousa reassured residents that the borough was in close contact with Montreal police to ensure security at places of worship in the multi-ethnic district.

“In the minutes following the announcement of the attack, we contacted Montreal police to determine the situation in St-Laurent,” DeSousa said in a statement.

“We remain in close contact with them and other officials and representatives of religious communities to preserve the sense of security of our residents. With a population that is composed primarily of immigrants, St-Laurent is often cited as an example of harmonious co-habitation among the numerous cultural communities that it welcomes.

“We will spare no effort to ensure all our residents, regardless of their country of origin or their religion, can continue to go about their daily business and frequent the institutions of their choice in complete security.”



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