Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruled the incident a “terror attack” in a statement. He wrote, “It was with tremendous shock, sadness and anger that I hear of this evening’s tragic and fatal shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Quebec located in the Ste-Foy neighbourhood of the city of Quebec.”
Reuters initially reported that there were two gunmen that opened fire on those attending evening prayers at Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center in the Sainte-Foy neighborhood.
The two arrested by police were identified by The Associated Press as Mohamed el Khadir and Alexandre Bissonnette. It was later reported by La Presse that the name of the latter is actually Mohammed Belkhadir — not Mohamed Khadir as it was first reported by numerous outlets.
But police in Quebec noted that following the investigation Belkhadir is now “considered a witness” and all potential charges against him have been dropped.
Alexandre Pratt of La Presse tweeted after Belkhadir was released that he was “in a bad place at the wrong time. He was afraid and police jumped on him.”:
Justin Ling of VICE News reported that a home was raided as part of an investigation of the shooting.
Instead, Belkhadir “ran into the building to save lives and not take them,” Huffington Post reported. He allegedly told police that he heard gunshots and ran to save the lives of the victims.
Belkhadir said following the incident to Canadian media, “I went inside to try to give first aid to my friend on the ground, and I saw someone with a weapon. I didn’t know he was a policeman. I thought it was someone who came back to shoot. So I fled outside, on the parking side.” He was later taken into custody by police for questioning.
Here’s what you need to know about Belkhadir:
1. Belkhadir, a Witness In the Shooting, Was Falsely Reported as Being of Moroccan Descent
According to Fox News, one of the suspects being held was of Moroccan descent.
It was initially reported that Belkhadir was a suspect in the shooting, but later revealed that he was instead a witness and Bissonnette was the sole accused shooter in the incident.
A court appearance took place on January 30.
2. Belkhadir, a Witness, Was Detained Near the Mosque, Bissonnette, the Accused Shooter, Called PoliceFollowing the shooting, it was reported that Belkhadir was arrested by police near the mosque and Bissonnette had called police and fled from the mosque.
According to a translated report from leSoleil, Bissonnette called police and told them “he felt bad because of the gesture he had just made and was threatening to shoot himself.”
According to The Washington Post, Bissonnette was arrested 14 miles east near the shore of the St. Lawrence River, near a bridge that was closed by police, known to be Bissonnette.
As part of the pursuit, police reportedly chased a gray Mitsubishi until it was caught at the edge of an access ramp near a bridge. The translated article says there was “at least one handgun and two weapons that appeared to be AK-47s” in the backseat.”
3. The Shooter Reportedly Entered the Mosque When Prayer Began, Belkhadir Was ParticipatingAccording to a report by TVA Nouvelles, the accused shooter entered the mosque shortly after 7:30 p.m. local time, when the evening prayer service began and started firing shots at those in attendance at in the men’s section. Police say all of the victims in the mosque shooting were men between the ages of 39 and 60, CTV News reported.
The center’s president, Mohamed Yangui, said to Reuters following the ordeal, “Why is this happening here? This is barbaric.”
Bissonnette was allegedly wearing a ski mask and carrying firearms when he burst into the building and began opening fire, The Star reported.
It’s currently unclear what led to Belkhadir being held by police.
4. Belkhadir & Bissonnette Reportedly Attended Universite Laval
The university is about five minutes away from the shooting scene, also in Quebec City. It’s the oldest French-language university in North America, it says on the public institution’s website. It was founded by Francois de Montmorency-Laval in 1663, also being known as the first institution in North America to offer higher education in the French lanuage.
However, at a January 30 press conference, the school didn’t immediately confirm or deny that Belkhadir or Bissonnette were studying there. Éric Beauce, executive vice president and development for the school told Radio-Canada, “The police authorities did not confirm these things.” But the school did admit that it was “clear” the school and the shooters were connected in some capacity and offered to help as much as possible.
But according to his Facebook page, Bissonnette is from Cap-Rouge, Quebec and is studying anthropology and political science at the school. It was noted on the page that he has been a student there since 2012.
The Montreal Gazette wrote that the school has “stepped up security on the campus,” increasing the number of patrols and security guards. The rector (president) of university, Denis Brière, told the media that the school has a “large Muslim community” and added that he was “shocked and deeply saddened by the shootings.”
The university said it’s providing counseling to students/staff if in need.
5. The Shooter Was Unknown to Police Prior to the Incident
The Montreal Gazette reported that police said the alleged shooter inside of the the mosque “was not known” to them before the shooting. Later it was found that Belkhadir is not a suspect in the crime, but a witness.
Any idea of a possible motive for the shooting was not immediately revealed, superintendent Martin Plant of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s C Division told media members.
Following the attack, a number of Canadian Muslim groups expressed their sympathy to the members of the mosque, Metro News reported. Haroun Bouazzi, president of AMAL-Quebec, a Muslim human-rights group in Montreal told the news outlet:
A number of Canadian Muslim groups have expressed shock and anger at the attack.
“Quebec Muslims are frightened right now. We are urgently waiting for answers as to how and why such a tragedy could occur.
This post will be updated.