To lawyers, the chilling video of the Quebec City mosque shooting may have been a simple legal document. To Najat Naanaa, it was tangible evidence that her late husband gave his life trying to save the lives of others.
After a year of grieving and loss for Ms. Naanaa, the security footage shown in court this week offered something that has been elusive for her: A measure of solace and even pride.
“I knew about my husband’s bravery, but the cameras proved it,” Ms. Naanaa said in an interview on Thursday. “He died the way he had lived – helping others.”
Witnesses had told Ms. Naanaa how her husband, Azzeddine Soufiane, had tried to stop gunman Alexandre Bissonnette by lunging at him inside the sanctuary on Jan. 29, 2017.
On Wednesday, a hushed Quebec Superior Court screened security footage of the rampage as part of Mr. Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing, providing a precious visual record of the actions of Mr. Soufiane and others at the mosque. (The video will not be released, but was watched by journalists inside the courtroom.)
Ms. Naanaa left the courtroom in Quebec City because she could not bear to see her husband shot in cold blood. But she learned about what was in it, and the prosecutor’s description of her husband’s “indescribable” demonstration of courage. The 57-year-old Mr. Soufiane is seen rushing across the room and driving Mr. Bissonnette into a shoe rack. The killer pushes him back and shoots him, firing again and again while Mr. Soufiane lies on the ground.
The acts of bravery by some worshippers at the Grand Mosque at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre have offered a glimmer of light in what has been one of Canada’s darkest moments of violence, and led to calls for Mr. Soufiane to be recognized posthumously.
“He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things,” said Imam Hassan Guillet, who delivered the eulogy for Mr. Soufiane and two others in a speech that was widely shared on social media. “I don’t know if I would have been able to do what he did.”
The video underscores how the mosque shooting “showed the worst and best in us,” Imam Guillet said − both the cold-bloodedness of the killer, and the sacrifice of others, he said.
He hopes Mr. Soufiane’s gestures are recognized with an honour by Canada. “As a society, we have to mark what he did.”
Mr. Soufiane, a grocer known for his generosity in the Quebec City Muslim community, was not alone in demonstrating courage and common decency in the face of chaos that night.
He died the way he had lived – helping others.— Najat Naanaa, on her late husband Azzeddine Soufiane
Said Akjour, who had been shot in the left shoulder, is shown in the video chasing Mr. Bissonnette as the gunman flees.
Mohamed Belkhadir is seen removing his coat in the winter air and placing it on the body of a worshipper who was alive but mortally wounded on the ground. Police mistook Mr. Belkhadir for a suspect and arrested him. He never voiced anger over his arrest and said police treated him well, his landlord said.
“He never complained,” Blaise Bernard, who has rented a basement room to Mr. Belkhadir for two years, said on Thursday. “He’s a good man. It was an act of compassion to put down his coat.”
Aymen Derbali also stood in the line of fire, and is now in a wheelchair after taking seven bullets.
He remained in the courtroom on Wednesday to watch the video and bear witness, he said.
“Despite our sorrow, it gave a great sense of pride,” Mr. Derbali said. “I wanted to watch it and see the truth. It closes the circle. Even in a situation of panic, there were people who tried to show courage and protect others.”
Few can explain exactly what makes some people commit heroic deeds for others, partly because the heroes often are killed.
“When a person gives their life to another individual who is not connected by blood or family, it is one of the most profound human acts,” said Alberta-born psychologist Frank Farley, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. “Yet we know so little about it.”
Two motivators help explain heroic acts: generosity and tolerance for risk. “If you are risk averse, you are going to dive for cover. You want out, not in,” said Prof. Farley, past president of the American Psychological Association.
Mr. Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing continues. He pleaded guilty last month to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.