6 killed, 8 injured by gunmen at Quebec City mosque

The Washington Post

Quebec police confirmed in a news briefing that six people had been killed and eight injured, some seriously, in a mass shooting Sunday night at a mosque in suburban Quebec City as worshipers were finishing their prayers.

Government officials called the attack an act of terrorism.

A spokeswoman for the Sûreté du Québec, the Quebec provincial police, said that two suspects had been arrested. Investigations were continuing but the spokeswoman said the police do not believe at this time that others were directly involved in the attack.

One of the suspects was arrested 14 miles east of the mosque along the shore of the St. Lawrence River on the approach to the bridge leading to the Island of Orleans. The bridge was closed by police. The second suspect was arrested close to the mosque.

"The situation is under control, the premises are secure and the occupants were evacuated," police said in a tweet. "The investigation is ongoing."

Witnesses said that two gunmen opened fired at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center. Local media reported that between 60 and 100 people were inside.

"Why is this happening here? This is barbaric," the mosque's president, Mohamed Yangui, told Reuters.

Speaking on RDI, Quebec City police spokesman Etienne Doyon said that the shootings took place as prayers were ending Sunday evening.

Witnesses reported that at least two hooded shooters entered the mosque and opened fire on congregants who had remained there after the end of prayers. Other said the shooters were wearing ski masks.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the shooting a "terrorist attack" and said Canadians grieved for the victims.

"It is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence," he said in a statement. "Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear."

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also condemned the shooting as a "terrorist act" and called for solidarity with Muslims in Quebec.

"Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence," he said.

The Quebec Islamic Cultural Center is located near Laval University, which has a large community of international students, many from French-speaking Africa and the Maghreb.

The mosque, one of several in the area, was the target of a hate crime last June when a pig's head was left at the front door with the message "Bonne appétit," as The Washington Post reported at the time. The consumption of pork is banned by Islam. Concerned about that kind of incident, the mosque installed several closed-circuit cameras around the building.

The shooting is a particular shock for Quebec City, a quiet white-collar city with a low crime rate. In 2015, the city reported two murders. The metropolitan area has 800,000 people.

According to La Presse, the province's leading newspaper, police were also treating the attack as a terrorist incident and had activated a joint task force involving municipal police, Quebec's provincial police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, a Muslim advocacy group in Quebec, said he knows people who attend the Quebec City mosque, but that he and other area Muslim leaders were still trying frantically to find out who had been shot.

"People that we know, we are not sure if they're alive right now. They're saying about five confirmed, a dozen injured. And the police are cordoning all the area," he told The Post. "It is shocking. It never came to our mind that we'd have a terrorist act as such, especially in Canada."

Majzoub said Canada has seen increasing anti-Muslim hostility over the past year, but still nowhere near the level witnessed in the United States and Europe. But he said the area where the mosque has appeared to be particularly prone to anti-Muslim sentiments. "This masjid has witnessed a lot of issues before - threats and vandalism, and some Islamophobic graffiti," he said, using the Arabic word for mosque. "It's not the first time."

Majzoub said the mosque has a small congregation of about a hundred people and attracts a lot of students because it's near a university. He said many of its attendees are of North African descent.

"We never thought it could happen," he said. "It was a slaughter."

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Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report. Alan Freeman reported from Ottawa.

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