Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada has been hit with a terrorist attack, after two men opened fire in a Quebec City mosque, killing six people and injuring 19 others, some gravely.
The victims ranged from 35 to 70 years old, police said at an early morning press conference near the scene. Another 39 were at the mosque, but escaped uninjured.
Two male suspects have been arrested. One was arrested near the scene of the shooting, while the second was stopped after a chase that culminated near a bridge to the east of the city. Police said they do not believe there are any other suspects.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said in a statement released late Sunday night, hours after police reported having two men in custody and the situation at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec “under control.”
“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,” said the prime minister.
Trudeau added that “Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also decried the terrorist attack, insisting on Twitter that “no matter our origins, the color of our skin, our beliefs, or who we love, Quebec will always be a welcoming place.”
The attack happened shortly before 8 p.m. at the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, while dozens of people gathered for evening prayers. The center has been the target of recent racist attacks, including an incident last year in which someone left a severed pig’s head on its doorstep.
Quebecers began sharing sympathy and solidarity in light of the attack on social media with the hashtag #JeSuisQuebec. A vigil to pay tribute to the victims has been planned for Monday evening in Montreal.
An integrated anti-terrorism task force has been established with units and staff from the Quebec and Montreal city police forces, the Quebec provincial force, and the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui, told Global News.
An anonymous eyewitness told Radio-Canada that the two suspects had “a strong Quebecois accent.”
“One of them opened fired, and he yelled: “Allahu akbar” and the bullets were hitting people who were praying. People who were praying lost their lives. One of the balls passed right over my head,” the witness told Radio-Canada.
Those eyewitness reports were not corroborated and a motivation for the attack, or the identity of the attackers, remains unknown.
Various social media accounts spread false reports, blaming both white supremacists and Islamic extremists, but were quickly dismissed as fake.
A spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims told VICE News that they are monitoring the situation closely. The group keeps a detailed tracker of incidents and Islamophobia and alleged hate crimes against Muslims.
“We know that Quebec Muslims have just generally been on edge, and the climate there has been difficult,” said Amira Elghawaby. “But certainly I don’t think anyone could have anticipated something as tragic as this. And we still don’t know the motivation of the alleged shooters.”
Quebec mayor Régis Labeaume released a statement early Monday morning condemning the attack
“I urge the people to unite and stand together. Québec is a strong city. Québec is a proud city. Québec is a city that is open to the world,” Labeaume said.
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre tweeted that his city had taken additional security measures on Sunday night.
Both Montreal and Gatineau said they will be beefing up security and surveillance, according to the CBC, paying particular attention to local mosques.
A reporter from the Washington Post tweeted a statement from the New York City Police Department that said the force was “monitoring the situation in Quebec” and that it has directed “special attention be given to all mosque/house-of-worship locations citywide.”
The Islamic Cultural Center along with a number of other mosques in the province, have been subjected to numerous racist and Islamophobic attacks in recent years. Last June during Ramadan, a pig’s severed head with a note that said “bon appétit” was found at the cultural center’s doors. In 2014, the Sainte-Foy mosque and two others were sent messages that said “Islam out of my country.”
More to come