Six people were shot dead and eight others were wounded in a “barbaric” massacre at a mosque in Quebec City, Canada, police said.
Police and politicians are calling it a terrorist attack, La Presse reports.
While police earlier said two suspects were arrested, and witnesses reported as many as three shooters, authorities now say the only man charged in the shooting is Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old Quebec native.
A second man, Mohamed el Khadir, was previously identified by authorities as a suspect. He was taken into custody near the mosque and questioned, but Quebec Provincial Police said in a tweet Monday afternoon that he is no longer considered to be a suspect. He is now being called a witness. It is not clear why he was arrested.
Police said they are still investigating to determine a motive for the attack. Bissonnette was not known to police prior to the shooting, authorities said.
The victims range in age from 35 to 70, police said. They have not yet been identified publicly.
Few details about the Sunday night incident have been released. The shooting occurred about 8 p.m. at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec on Sainte-Foy Street as worshippers gathered for evening prayers, CTV News reports.
“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui, told reporters. He was not at the mosque at the time of the shooting, but rushed to the scene after calls from members of the community.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians “mourn the victims of the cowardly attack in a mosque in Quebec. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.”
Philippe Couillard, the Premier of Quebec, said on Twitter that the government is mobilized to protect people in the city after the shooting.
He also said, in French, “Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence. Our solidarity is with victims, the injured and their families.”
A team of the SQ (Quebec Provincial Police), Quebec City and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with the SQ leading, are now investigating the January 29 shooting.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information is available. Here is what we know so far:
1. Witnesses Said the Shooter, Armed With an ‘AK-47,’ Opened Fire Upon About 40 Worshippers While Yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’
Witnesses told Reuters that two to three gunmen opened fire on worshippers inside the mosque Sunday night.
But police now say there was only one shooter.
Along with the six killed and eight injured, at least 39 other people survived the attack, police said.
A witness told Radio-Canada the shooter wore a mask, the CBC reports.
“It seemed to me that they had a Quebecois accent. They started to fire, and (while) they shot they yelled, ‘Allahu akbar!’ The bullets hit people that were praying. People who were praying lost their lives. A bullet passed right over my head,” said the witness, who asked not to be named. “There were even kids. There was even a three-year-old who was with his father.”
The mosque’s president said there can be up to 100 in attendance on a Sunday night. According to La Presse, children would have been in the basement, while the men would be on the ground floor and women on the second floor.
The gunman was armed with an “AK-47,” Le Soleil reports.
Hamid Nadji, who spoke to a friend who was inside the mosque, told the Montreal Gazette the scene was a “carnage.”
Nadji told the newspaper, “From what we heard over the phone, one person had a weapon discharged in his face because he had wanted to jump on the man to stop him. And the three others died because they wanted to catch the man.”
The shooter left the mosque to reload and came back. He then ran out of bullets a second time, reloaded and returned for a third round of shooting, Nadji told the Gazette.
After a previous hate crime incident at the mosque, also called Grande Mosque de Québec, its leaders said they had several CCTV cameras on the building. It is not clear if the video shows the shooting or the suspects.
The mosque has about 5,000 members and is one of six in the Quebec City region, the Montreal Gazette reports.
2. The Suspect Is a Student at a Quebec City University & Has No Criminal Record
Khadir was later cleared Monday and released.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, is a native of Quebec.
A source told Radio-Canada both Bissonnette and Khadir are students at Université Laval, a French-language, public college in Quebec City. There are about 28,500 undergraduate students and 8,500 graduate students attending the school.
It is not known if the two men know each other.
Bissonnette was arrested about 14 miles away from the mosque, and Khadir was taken into custody nearby, the Washington Post reports.
Police surrounded and captured Bissonnette on the Île d’Orléans bridge over the St. Lawrence River, the newspaper reports.
“The situation is under control, the premises are secure and the occupants were evacuated,” police said on Twitter.
No other details about the suspected shooters has been released. It is not known if they were arrested without incident, or if they were injured.
A search is still ongoing for a possible third suspect, though police do not believe there is a third man involved, at least not directly.
“The investigation has not ended,” Quebec City Police spokesman Étienne Doyon, told the Toronto Star. “We will be trying to verify if there is a third or fourth or any other person involved. We’re not ruling out that there may be other suspects.”
Doyon said the suspects, who have not been identified, will both face murder charges.
The men were being questioned early Monday morning.
3. One of the Suspects Called Police to Turn Himself in Because He Felt Guilty
About 17 minutes after the first call of shots fired at the mosque, Bissonnette called 911 to police he felt guilty about what he had done, La Presse reports.
The 27-year-old man, who is a Quebec native, told the 911 dispatcher he was going to shoot himself. About 8:45 p.m., he told police he wanted to be picked up.
He parked his car, a Mitsubishi, on the Island of Orleans bridge, and officers from the Tactical Intervention Group arrived and took him into custody, the newspaper reports.
A handgun and two rifles that looked like AK-47s were found in his car, according to La Presse.
The bridge remained closed early Monday morning, the newspaper said. Authorities feared the Mitsubishi may have been rigged with explosives.
Police had shut down the entire area around the mosque by the time the suspect called. Another man, Khadir, was taken into custody near the scene.
A video posted to Facebook by the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec shows a heavy police presence at the scene.
Witnesses said at least 20 police vehicles responded, along with several ambulances.
Le Soleil also reported a large police presence at the mosque.
A large perimeter had been set up around the mosque, witnesses said.
In the live video, one of the men recording can be heard saying in Arabic, “he’s escaped. He was on his feet, he’s escaped,” the Huffington Post reports.
A second man starts to name people inside the mosque, but stops after concerns about worrying those watching the video.
According to the Huffington Post, one of the men can also be heard saying in Arabic, “This is the result of Trump.”
Police have not released a motive for the shooting, which occurred in a low-crime community, according to the Montreal Gazette.
Ben Abdallah, who often prays at the mosque but was not there during the shooting, told the newspaper “we never thought” such a “catastrophic” incident would happen there.
“But given the hateful speeches all around the planet, it can happen,” he said.
You can watch other video from the scene at the link below:
4. A Pig’s Head Was Left Outside the Mosque in June & a Video of a Man Threatening to Kill Quebec Muslims Was Posted Online in 2015
Muslims in Quebec have been the targets of threats in recent years.
In June 2016, a pig’s head was left outside the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec, the same mosque where the shooting occurred Sunday, along with the note “Bon appétit,” the CBC reported at the time.
The pig’s head was left during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The consumption of pork is banned by the Qu’ran.
No one was ever arrested in that incident.
Mohamed Yangui, the mosque’s president, referenced the incident after the shooting.
In an interview with Le Soleil , he said police told them it was an “isolated act,” at the time, but “today we have deaths.” He said they had not received threats in recent days.
An Islamophobic letter entitled, “What is the most serious: a pig’s head or a genocide,” was distributed in the area around the mosque about three weeks after the pig’s head was found, the Montreal Gazette reports.
In 2015, a video threatening Quebec Muslims surfaced online, the Montreal Gazette reported.
The video, posted to Youtube in November 2015, showed a man in a Joker mask expressing frustration with Muslims in Quebec and saying if the government won’t do anything about them, he would, the newspaper reported. The man in the video also said he had a group of people with him who would help carry out the threat.
He can be seen holding a pistol in the video, and threatened to kill one Muslim every week, according to the Gazette.
Like in the pig’s head incident, no one was arrested in connection to the video.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement saying he was filled with “shock, anger and sadness” after the shooting Sunday night:
It was with tremendous shock, sadness and anger that I heard of this evening’s tragic and fatal shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec located in the Ste-Foy neighbourhood of the city of Québec. We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who have died, and we wish a speedy recovery to those who have been injured. While authorities are still investigating and details continue to be confirmed, 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. 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. Tonight, we grieve with the people of Ste-Foy and all Canadians.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said in a statement the city is “in shock” following the shooting.
“My first thoughts go to the victims and their affected families as they gathered for prayer,” Labeaume said. “Quebec City is an open city where everyone must be able to live together in safety and respect. I invite all the people to unite and to be in solidarity. Québec is strong, Québec is proud, Québec is open to the world.”
Mohammed Qudghiri, who normally attends prayers at the mosque but was not there Sunday night, told Reuters, “We are not safe here.”
He said he has lived in Quebec for 42 years, but is now considering returning home to Morocco.
“It’s a sad day for all Quebecers and Canadians to see a terrorist attack happen in peaceful Quebec City,” Mohamed Yacoub, co-chairman of an Islamic community centre in a Montreal suburb, told Reuters. “I hope it’s an isolated incident.”
Other politicians joined Trudeau in expressing support for the Muslim community.
“We know little at the moment, but one or two people have assumed the right to kill our fellow Muslim Québec citizens. When intolerance goes from debate to murder, solidarity is essential,” local politician Manon Massé told The Guardian.
An anti-Islamophobia group based in Quebec City said it has been urging authorities for years to address the anti-Muslim issue in the region, but nothing was done. It said the attack was preventable.
Francis Deschamps, an organizer of a refugee support-group in Quebec City told the Associated Press he is “not very surprised” about the shooting, saying he has personally received death threats after starting a refugee support group on Facebook.
He said right-wing groups are “very organized” in Quebec City and distribute fliers at the university and plaster stickers around the region. According to the AP, the French-speaking areas of Canada are less welcoming to immigrants and other religions than other parts of the country, which has brought in thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since Trudeau took office in 2015.
Another group, the Islamic Centre of Quebec, told the Gazette, “This attack on a sanctuary where innocent people, including children, gather has shaken us deeply. It runs against the core values we hold as Canadians.”
And urged “the Muslim community to remain calm, united and know that the Canadian people stand with us in solidarity. We have faith that the great people of this country will stand and work together during this difficult time.”
Yangui, the mosque’s leader, said he was stunned by the attack.
“We have a very good relationship with the neighbors, with the community,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “There’s mutual respect – and now today we have this dramatic event.”
Vigils have been planned for Monday in Quebec City and Montreal, according to reports.
5. The Shooting Comes As Prime Minister Trudeau Says Canada Will Welcome Muslim Immigrants Turned Away by the U.S.
The shooting comes on the same day as thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the United States to fight back against an order banning refugees and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put out messages supporting Muslim immigrants and has said his country would welcome those turned away by the U.S.
Canada did not denounce Trump’s order, the CBC reported on Sunday, prior to the shooting.
“Every country has the right to determine their policies. I can only tell you that we will continue our long-standing tradition of being open to those who seek sanctuary,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told the CBC.
Hussen did say that Canada would not be raising the number of refugees it will accept in 2017, despite speculation after Trudeau’s tweet that it would bring in more people, according to the CBC. Canada plans to bring in about 25,000 refugees this year.
There is no evidence to connect the attack in Quebec to the U.S. immigration debate.