A 27-year-old man has been charged with six counts of murder after a shooting at a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers in an attack Canada’s Prime Minister called a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.
Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian political science and anthropology student, appeared at a Quebec City court on Monday, he also faces five counts of attempted murder.
More than 50 people were at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre when the shooting erupted on Sunday night.
Along with the six killed, five people were in a critical condition and 12 others suffered minor injuries, University of Quebec Hospital Centre spokeswoman Genevieve Dupuis said on Monday. The age of those killed ranged from 35 to 65.
Earlier, police said they had arrested two men, including one who called 911 to say he was armed but ready to give himself up, but later said just one remains a suspect.
Authorities later clarified that the other man, Mohamed el Khadir was just a witness.
Police said they did not believe there were other suspects but were investigating. They did not give a possible motive for the attack. Francois Deschamps, an official with an advocacy group, Welcome to Refugees, said the suspect was known to those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec and that the suspect was known for his far-right views.
The president of the Cultural Centre told reporters the shooting occurred in the men’s section of the mosque. Mohamed Yangui said he wasn’t at the centre during the attack, but got some details from people on the scene.
“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the attack as a “terrorist attack on Muslims”, which came a day after Canada said it would offer temporary residency permits to those stranded by President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim countries.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge,” Mr Trudeau said in a statement.
“It is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.
“Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country,” he added.
Mr Trudeau will make a statement in parliament before travelling to Quebec City, his office said.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said: “No person should have to pay with their life, for their race, their colour, their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs.”
President Trump called Mr Trudeau to express his condolences about the mosque attack.
The Canadian Prime Minister’s office said Mr Trump expressed his condolences to Mr Trudeau and the Canadian people and offered to provide any assistance needed.
The mayor of Paris said the lights of the Eiffel Tower will be switched off at midnight to honour the victims of the attack.
French President Francois Hollande condemned the “odious attack” on the mosque and offered support for Canada’s leaders.
Mr Hollande, whose country has suffered a string of Islamic extremist attacks, said in a statement: “It was the Quebecois spirit of peace and openness that the terrorists wanted to harm”.
While Canada is generally very welcoming towards immigrants and those from different religions, the French-speaking province of Quebec has struggled to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population.
The face-covering, or niqab, became a large issue in 2015, where the vast majority of the province’s population supported a ban on ostentatious religious symbols.
In June 2016, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the Islamic Cultural Centre in the middle of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. Practising Muslims do not eat pork.
Additional reporting by agencies
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies