- Six people are dead
- Five people still in critical condition after being operated overnight; Twelve others treated and released
- Victims, all men, were aged 39-60. Police added that 39 others who were in the mosque at the time of the shooting were unharmed.
- After initially saying there were two suspects, police later said there is one suspect and one witness. Both men are are previously unknown to police.
- Alexandre Bissonnette is the suspect. He was expected to be arraigned Monday afternoon.
- Police surveillance stepped up at mosques across Quebec and Ontario, Premier Couillard says
A quiet college student has become the focus of police attention after a mass shooting Sunday night at a mosque in Quebec City that killed six people and wounded several more in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as “a terrorist attack on Muslims.”
After initially saying there were two suspects, police from the Sureté du Québec confirmed around noon Monday that there was only one and that he was in custody. The other is being considered a witness.
Primary attention now centres on Alexandre Bissonnette, a 20-something resident of Quebec City suburb of Cap Rouge. He is expected to be arraigned later Monday.
The man who court officials had named as another man involved is now considered a witness. The TVA network said Mr. Bissonnette was the only suspect.
“Six of our brothers were assassinated [by shots to] the back while they were praying,” said Ben Abdallah, a local muslim community leader in Quebec City, speaking at an emotional news conference with Quebec lawmakers Monday. “They’ve left orphans.”
Among the men who died was a university professor and a shopkeeper, another community leader said, adding these were men who made key contributions to society. “Each one is a father. I want this humanity [to be expressed].”
Representatives of the muslim community who spoke at the news conference said they did not know the perpetrator of the crime.
Two history students who said they went to Cegep with Mr. Bissonnette described him as quiet and unassuming, adding he belonged to the school’s chess club.
“It’s just really surprising,” said one, who declined to give his name. “It’s scary that it would happen here,” said the other, Antoine Cabanac.
A home where Mr. Bissonnette resided in the Quebec City suburb of Cap-Rouge was searched Monday morning, neighbours confirmed. The white and grey two-story house sits on a small crescent just a few dozen metres from the St. Lawrence river. Shortly after noon, a large SUV pulled up and crime scene investigators carried equipment inside.
Police descended on that site as well as others around Quebec City hunting for information in what they described as a large and ongoing investigation.
Surveillance of mosques around Quebec and Ontario has been stepped up, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said.
At a separate news conference earlier Monday morning, police confirmed the number of casualties in the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. The victims were all men and aged 39 to 60, police said, adding that 39 people who were in the mosque at the time of the shooting were unharmed.
Many of the witnesses spent the night at a sports centre near the mosque where they were questioned.
Of those taken to hospital, five were still in critical condition after being operated on overnight, hospital officials said Monday morning. Twelve others with minor injuries have been treated and released.
Investigators do not believe there was anyone involved beyond the two men they had in initial custody. They would not comment on identity of the attackers, motives or methods. Initially, police said the suspects are in their late 20s and early 30s.
“This is an extensive investigation,” said superintendent Martin Plante of the RCMP, noting four police forces are working together on the ongoing probe.
“In a terrorism investigation, there are ideological, religious or political motivations at play,” Sup. Plante said. “There are activities pursued by individuals that want to cause worry to the public through a violent act.”
Police appeared to be in close contact with Quebec City’s nearby Laval University but university officials would not confirm unverified information that the attacker was among the students there.
“We are profoundly distributed by these terrorist acts,” said Denis Brière, Laval’s rector. “I am without words in the face of these cruel events. These are heinous and inhuman acts. Terrorist attacks that we condemn strongly at Laval University. These are acts that should not happen anywhere, ever.”
Details of the shooting itself were not clear. Worshippers were at Quebec City’s mosque for the evening prayers when the attack occurred. Early reports indicated that two assailants dressed in black and wearing ski masks walked into the mosque and started shooting. Frantic worshippers started calling 911 at 7:55 p.m., according to police.
One witness, who did not want to give his name, said he was in the mosque after the evening prayer when a man walked in and started shooting “everything that was moving.”
“It was someone who mastered weapons because it was calm,” the man said. “He killed and he killed. It was really horrible.”
He said he lay on his stomach near the front of the mosque as the man emptied his weapon. Then, he said, the gunman just stopped and left.
“I’m shocked,” he said. “We thought that here, we were in a safe city, a safe country. But unfortunately that’s not the case.”
Police said they intercepted one of the men initially labelled a suspect near the mosque shortly after receiving the first emergency phone calls and arrested him.
The other man initially labelled a suspect fled the scene by car and called 911 around 8:10 p.m. to say he was involved. He stopped his vehicle on the ramp leading to the Ile d’Orleans bridge to wait for police, authorities said.
“He said he was armed and told us about what he had done,” said Turcotte. “He seems to want to cooperate.”
Ali Hamadi had said goodbye to a good friend and left minutes before the gunfire broke out. He was just home when he started getting phone calls telling him that the mosque had come under attack. One of his good friends was killed.
“He was my friend, my colleague. We worked together in the civil service for the Quebec government. Had I not left early I could have been among the victims,” Mr. Hamadi said.
When Mr. Hamadi went to the hospital and identified his friend’s body all he could think about was the grief his friend’s wife and three young daughters will suffer in the days to come.
“Such a tragic event. How can his children ever come to grasp how their father could have been murdered while praying in a mosque?” Mr. Hamadi said.
One of the alleged gunmen called police and turned himself in several kilometres form the mosque. Neither suspect was harmed in the arrests.
Quebec’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, consisting of investigators from the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal police service, took over the investigation around 10 p.m. Sunday, when the shooting was determined to be an act of terror.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume held a joint news conference at 1:30 a.m. Monday where they added no details about the attack but expressed condolences and solidarity.
“I want to say a few words to our Québécois compatriots of the Muslim confession. We’re with you. You are home, you are welcome in your home. We’re all Québécois,” said Mr. Couillard.
Mr. Labeaume, usually known for his self-confidence and boisterous nature, was shattered. “Quebec City is in mourning, this magnificent city,” he said, his voice drifting off. “I’ve often said that despite the peace we live, we are not immune to the fates.”
Hours after the shooting, the Centre sportif Sainte Foy acted as a hub where concerned community members gathered. Small groups huddled and exchanged information about their missing friends.
Gazi Hamrouni had spent six hours looking for a friend of 20 years.
“He was the first I called when I heard the news,” said Mr. Hamrouni. “His phone didn’t pick up, now it’s dead and I’ve been to every hospital in the city, several times.”
He said none were able to provide information about his friend, who wasn’t on the injured list.
“He doesn’t work Sunday nights so this is the place he would be (the mosque) — he lives five minutes away from it.”
Abder Dhakkar and four other men standing in the parking lot were frustrated at the lack of communication to the families of victims.
“Shouldn’t there be someone we can go to know what’s going on?” Mr. Dhakkar said.
Others at the centre were there, they said, because they felt they had to be. At around 4:30 a.m., the final group of people gathered at the sports centre began to leave, some of them getting into the back of police cars sobbing.
“Out of solidarity,” said Lehachie Hakim, a 54-year-old father who was with his two sons when he heard of the shooting.
“My youngest is completely traumatized. He was crying. It’s shocking; I never thought this would happen.”
Mohammed Yangui, the mosque president, said 60 to 100 people are usually at the mosque for evening prayers. He was not present for the shooting but spoke to several witnesses who said the men worked their way through two floors of the mosque, reloading as they went.
“A mass shooting. In Quebec City. I can’t believe it,” he said. “We’ve never done anything to provoke anyone, and we’ve never cultivated hatred for anyone. I’m just beside myself.”
They walked in on the ground floor of the mosque where men pray, Mr. Yangui said, and also went to the second floor.
Mr. Trudeau said he was being briefed on the attack and was in contact with Mr. Couillard, who drove during the night to Quebec City from his home in the Lac St. Jean area.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge,” Mr. 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. Canadian law enforcement agencies will protect the rights of all Canadians, and will make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators of this act and all acts of intolerance.”
Condemnations poured in from around the world as word of the attack spread.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the NYPD was beefing up security around mosques in the wake of the attack.
“All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something,” he wrote 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.”
French President Francois Hollande has 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 Québécois spirit of peace and openness that the terrorists wanted to harm” in Sunday’s attack.
The mosque, also known as La Grande mosquée in the west end of the city, has been the target of vandalism in the past. Last June during Ramadan, a pig’s head was left outside the mosque. The head was wrapped in paper and accompanied by a note that said “Bonne appetit.”
In the middle of the night the mosque posted a message on its Facebook page: “All our thoughts for children to whom we must announce the deaths of their dads. May Allah lend them patience and endurance.”
Vigils are planned in Montreal and Quebec City on Monday.
LES PERREAUX, RHÉAL SÉGUIN, VERITY STEVENSON, INGRID PERITZ AND SEAN GORDON
Montreal and Quebec City — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 9:19AM EST
Last updated Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 2:10PM EST