Six people were killed and eight more were injured on Sunday evening when gunmen opened fire on them as they prayed in a mosque in Quebec City in an attack decried as ‘cowardly’ and ‘barbaric’.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the shooting a ‘terrorist attack on Muslims.’
Earlier, a witness said that up to three masked gunmen fired on around 50 worshipers inside the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center around 8pm. Most of the people inside the building were men and 39 people escaped unharmed.
Quebec City Police have confirmed that two people have been arrested in connection with the attack but the investigation is ongoing.
One suspect was arrested at the mosque and the other was apprehended after a chase that ended near l’île d’Orléans around 15 miles from the scene.
Initial reports from CBC‘s French-language service Radio-Canada suggest that as many as three shooters began firing.
Witnesses inside the building also said the masked shooters shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ in what sounded like a Quebecois accent.
The Canadian Prime Minister responded to the shooting on Twitter writing: ‘Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families.’
‘I’ve just spoken with Premier Philippe Couillard and am being briefed by our officials. We have offered any & all assistance needed.’
The deadly shooting unfolded following a weekend which has seen President Donald Trump’s divisive and controversial ‘Muslim immigration ban’ spark widespread protests across America.
It sparked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remark that his country remains open to all immigration.
He tweeted, ‘To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.’
A large number of heavily armed police responded to the scene and according to local media the president of the mosque said that dozens were injured. Police have secured the peremeter and occupants have been evacuated according to Le Soleil.
‘There are many victims … there are deaths,’ a Quebec police spokesman told reporters.
Québec Sgt. Christine Coulombe said the victim’s ages range from 35 to 70.
Earlier, a witness told Reuters that up to three gunmen fired on around 50 people inside the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center.
Police put up a security perimeter around the mosque and initially declined to comment to reporters about the incident.
‘Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,’ said the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui.
Mohammed Oudghiri normally attends the prayers but missed this Sunday. He is worried and is now considering moving back to Morocco.
He told the press: ‘We are not safe here.’
Quebec City Police later tweeted: ‘The situation is under control.’
In a later statement, Trudeau wrote: ‘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.’
The mayor of Gatineau, Quebec said there will be heightened security at mosques in the city after the attack.
Other cities are upping security in light of recent attacks at Muslim places of worship. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter: ‘The awful attack in Quebec is not an outlier. Today, a mosque in Texas was burned to the ground. We must stop those who seek to divide us.’
‘NYPD is providing additional protection for mosques in the city. All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something.’
In June 2016, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the cultural center.
Yangui, who was not inside the mosque when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers.
Victims were taken to different hospitals across Quebec City.
Like France, Quebec has struggled at times to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population, many of them North African emigrants.
The face-covering, or niqab, became a big issue in the 2015 national Canadian election, especially in Quebec, where the vast majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies.
Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. In 2013, police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of Quebec was splattered with what was believed to be pig blood.
In the neighboring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015, a day after an attack by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris.
Yesterday, a Texas mosque was ravaged by a fire just hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting migration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
A clerk at a convenience store spotted smoke and flames billowing from the Islamic Center of Victoria at around 2am on Saturday, and the fire department spent more than four hours battling the blaze.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Reuters