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Canada After convert Couture-Rouleau's killing, Quebec mosque eager to ‘live and let live’

Poppies, taped to a pole by Master Corporal Champagne Leblanc, stand in front of the Service Canada building in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., on Oct. 21, 2014.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/The Globe and Mail

They knew they had a convert in their midst, but worshippers at the tiny mosque wedged between a paint store and a canvas shop on this city's main commercial drag say they had no idea how radical Martin Couture-Rouleau had become.

The president of the Al-Imane mosque where Mr. Couture-Rouleau worshipped says the new convert started coming for prayers in the summer of 2013, was only an occasional visitor, didn't really mix with others. He and stopped attending about two months ago said Abdelhamid Bekkari, the president of the Al-Imane mosque. Several worshippers interviewed briefly confirmed Mr. Bekkari's impression, saying they were only aware a "Québécois" had joined in but didn't know his full name.

Radio-Canada reported Mr. Rouleau had converted several friends to Islam, but Mr. Bekkari and others say he never brought them to mosque. "If he was converting others to Islam, we saw no evidence of it," Mr. Bekkari said in an interview.

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Mr. Couture-Rouleau killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injured another military man Monday when he drove into them in the parking lot of a Service Canada building in the centre of town.

The mosque opened four years ago and serves about 40 families. Mr. Rouleau, who Mr. Bekkari only knew by first name, didn't take part in discussions or other community activities, Mr. Bekkari said.

Mr. Bekkari said his mosque, housed in an aging strip mall, is hardly a radical hotbed. Its imam works only part-time, women and children take part in most activities and an RCMP officer is a member of the mosque. (Mr. Bekkari declined to identify the officer.)

"We're overwhelmed. We just want to live and let live, and we feel like we're being punished for something that has nothing to do with this," Mr. Bekkari said.

"We're trying to live a full Québécois and Canadian life. We don't even dress in the traditional clothes he did," Mr. Bekkari said, pointing to the black dress pants and buttoned-down shirt he wore for his just-completed shift at an office supply store.

Other residents of Saint-Jean, a military town with a small garrison and a college where many Canadian military officers are trained, expressed similar sorts of confusion.

Master Corporal Nic Champagne-Leblanc arrived Tuesday near the spot of the attack with a white rose and poppies to erect his own memorial on a lamppost. A few moments earlier, a street sweeper arrived to clean up blood.

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As he climbed a ladder to place his memorial, the medic – who served in the war in Afghanistan and is now based at the local hospital – said he wanted to mark the loss.

"These guys, my brothers, are back here on the home front, probably relaxed and thinking there's no threat here, in their own country," MCpl. Champagne-Leblanc said. "And bang. He's killed, just like that."

MCpl. Champagne-Leblanc said he did not believe soldiers will lose any resolve to carry on with their duties, a sentiment shared by several other military personnel who spoke but did not want to be interviewed.

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