The Quebec City mosque attack: What we know so far
A mass shooting left six people dead in what the Prime Minister called a terrorist attack. Get caught up on The Globe's coverage of the tragedy and the difficult debates it provoked
- Six people are dead after a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City’s Sainte-Foy neighbourhood on Sunday night.
- The victims were parents, civil servants, academics: men who had left their countries of origin seeking better lives in Quebec.
- Funeral services were held in Montreal on Thursday afternoon for three of the six men: Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi and Aboubaker Thabti. A second gathering in Quebec City on Friday honoured Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Azzeddine Soufiane.
- Canadians have donated thousands of dollars to support the victims’ families.
- The suspect is Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student at Laval University. Mr. Bissonnette faces six counts of first-degree murder. He was known in the city’s activist circles as a right-wing troll who frequently took anti-foreigner and anti-feminist positions and stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the attack an act of terrorism, but the RCMP are still weighing whether to lay formal terrorism charges.
- Montreal police responded to a rise in hate crimes in the 48 hours after the attack, making one arrest and receiving 29 reports of hate incidents.
- The mosque reopened for worship Wednesday, an emotional day for worshippers and members of the public who got to see the damage firsthand.
- Fox News has deleted tweets and apologized for misidentifying a Moroccan-Canadian as a suspect in the case after the network’s co-president got a strongly worded letter from Mr. Trudeau’s communications director, Kate Purchase. The tweets and other similar reports were based on erroneous early information from officials that a second suspect was involved.
When and where it happened
Witnesses interviewed by The Globe and Mail began to flesh out the timeline of what happened Sunday night at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Quebec City.
Around 7:30 p.m., the mosque's parking lot was filling up for evening prayers. Witnesses recall the doors being opened some time between 7:30 and 7:45. By 7:50, some inside heard a commotion outside one of the entrances to the prayer room. There, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry – two distant cousins of Guinean origin – were the first ones killed by the gunman, who then went inside the room and continued shooting. The attack lasted only a few minutes.
The first 911 call was logged at 7:55 p.m., by which time the shooter had apparently left. Police arrived within minutes. Some witnesses said they were manhandled and hauled downstairs. The police arrested a Laval University student, Mohamed Belkhadir, who was reportedly trying to perform first aid on a victim. (Reports the next day would misidentify Mr. Belkhadir as a second suspect, but police clarified that he was a witness to the attack.)
At 8:10 p.m., police received a 911 call from a man asking to speak with investigators. The unidentified caller claimed to have been involved in the shooting and told police he would wait for officers at an access road near the Île-d'Orléans bridge. At 8:55 p.m., a suspect was in custody.
By 10 p.m., Quebec's Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, consisting of investigators from the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal police service, had taken over the case. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec's Premier Philippe Couillard expressed condolences and said they were co-ordinating to deal with the situation.
Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 30, 2017
Le #Québec rejette catégoriquement cette violence barbare. Toute notre solidarité aux proches des victimes, des blessés et à leur famille.— Philippe Couillard (@phcouillard) January 30, 2017
Survivors were rushed to hospital and operated on non-stop throughout the night. Over all, 19 people were injured, five of them with critical gunshot wounds. By Tuesday, doctors said the people who remained in hospital were expected to survive, but the long-term effects of their injuries couldn't be predicted. Dr. Julien Clément, who oversaw the trauma team treating the wounded, said in an interview that the rapid response likely saved lives:
The response of the health professionals involved in this drama, from the paramedics to the surgeons, was impressive. They really answered the call in difficult circumstances.
Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student at Laval University, grew up on a quiet crescent in the Cap-Rouge suburb of Quebec City. His acquaintances and activists in the city painted a picture of him as a right-wing troll inspired by the French extreme right who supported U.S. President Donald Trump. His online profile and school friendships revealed little interest in extremist politics until last March, when French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen visited Quebec City and inspired Mr. Bissonnette to vocal extreme online activism, according to people who clashed with him.
Mr. Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder.
All six victims were men, aged 39 to 60. Most of them had young children.
- Abdelkrim Hassane, 41. Mr. Hassane was a civil servant, working as an analyst-programmer for the Quebec government after a stint in IT for the provincial police.
- Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, and Ibrahima Barry, 39. The two, both originally from Guinea but not related to each other, were inseparable. They were civil servants who lived on different floors of the same apartment building on La Pérade street in Sainte-Foy, a friend said.
- Azzeddine Soufiane, 57. Moroccan-born Mr. Soufiane came to Quebec City three decades ago as a student at Laval University, but he became known as a community pillar who was well known for being helpful to newly arrived Muslims.
- Khaled Belkacemi, 60. After graduating from Polytechnic School of Algiers in 1983, Prof. Belkacemi obtained his master’s degree and doctorate in chemical engineering from the Université de Sherbrooke.
- Aboubaker Thabti, 44. Mr. Thabti only lived five minutes from the mosque. His friends knew that he didn’t work on Sunday nights, so when they couldn’t reach him after the shooting started, they feared the worst.
Leaders of the Quebec City mosque said security had been "a major, major concern" prior to the attack. The mosque has been targeted by racist and anti-immigrant vandalism in the past. Last summer, during Ramadan, a pig's head was left at the front door with a card saying "bonne appétit." Eating pork is considered haram, or forbidden, in the Islamic faith.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims called on law enforcement agencies around the country to increase security around mosques and Islamic centres. Council president Ihsaan Gardee urged law enforement to act quickly to prosecute the person responsible:
We are horrified by this despicable act of violence. Our prayers and deep condolences are with the families of the victims. ... This act of wanton murder must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
The federal government urged places of worship, schools and community centres to assess their security and seek federal assistance if they need more protection against potential hate crimes.
On Tuesday, mosque members opened the house of worship to outsiders to see the aftermath of Sunday night's violence. (Warning: Our story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.) Recalling the attack, Samir Djadja pointed to blood stains where people were shot dead:
I know who that was, and who that was. These were my friends, who I’d known for years. We wanted people to see how horrible it was. This wasn’t a movie. There were lives lost and orphans created.
Sainte-Foy, a sleepy suburban community in a city with one of the country's lowest homicide rates, was shocked by Sunday night's attack. The community's Centre sportif became a hub for concerned community members to gather and exchange news about missing friends and loved ones.
How Canadians mourned
Vigils were held in Quebec City, Montreal and other Canadian cities on Monday evening.
The Quebec government set up a condolences registry for those who wanted to pay their respects online. Mr. Couillard met with members of Quebec City's Muslim community on Monday to show his support:
All Quebeckers are united in the solidarity we express today. Our society is a very open, tolerant and hospitable one, but we are not different from other societies, we have the same devils, xenophobia, racism...we should not be complacent in our society.
In the House of Commons on Monday, Mr. Trudeau and the federal opposition party leaders spoke out against the attack before they set off for Quebec City for an evening vigil. The Prime Minister urged Canadians to respond with "love and compassion":
Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack. It was an attack on our most intrinsic and cherished values as Canadians: values of openness, diversity and freedom of religion. Canadians will not be intimidated, we will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion.
On Thursday, thousands came to Montreal's Maurice-Richard Arena for a funeral for three of the victims. Their caskets were draped in the flags of their homelands, Tunisia and Algeria.
How the world grieved
Condolences came in on Monday from world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Pope Francis.
Je dénonce avec la plus grande fermeté l'odieux attentat qui a fait au moins six morts et de nombreux blessés dans une mosquée à Québec.— François Hollande (@fhollande) January 30, 2017
In France, the shooting also got a reaction from Ms. Le Pen's far-right party, which called the mass shooting "deplorable." When asked about Mr. Bissonnette's support for Ms. Le Pen, a party spokesman said Monday the French politician should not have to apologize for comments people make on their private Facebook pages.
From Washington, Mr. Trump offered his condolences in a phone call to Mr. Trudeau. But Mr. Trump's spokesman later appeared to link the incident with the U.S. immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, despite the fact that the six male victims in the Quebec attack were Muslim.
Canada's search for meaning, and blame
The shooting has added a new, dark urgency to Canadians' conversation about racism, immigration and pluralism, with several politicians and public figures taking aim at the U.S. immigration ban and far-right politics in Europe.
In Quebec – where political debates over "reasonable accommodation" and tolerance of Muslims have been fierce over the past decade – politicians and the media class have distanced themselves and expressed regret for their past rhetoric. For instance, Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée – whose party long pushed for a "Charter of Quebec Values" that would restrict when religious symbols and clothing could be worn – admitted he had sometimes gone too far. Quebec's Muslims, who accounts for about 3.1 per cent of the province's population, have greeted gestures like these with both appreciation and skepticism. Hakim Merdassi, a member of Quebec City's Tunisian association, questions whether they will change anything:
We’ve breached a barrier that we never thought would happen in Quebec. Someone fuelled by hate shot several people. Will this act lead to some kind of collective looking-out for one another? I wish it would. But my fear is that we’ll fall into the same identity politics and divisions we’ve seen in the past.
On Tuesday, former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson, whose family arrived from Hong Kong in the 1940s, spoke about the shooting as she helped welcome 37 people at the first group citizenship ceremony since the attack. She said Canadians were not immune from rhetoric of "horror, ignorance and hatred" from the United States:
We hear people who want leadership and who become leaders referring to an entire nation, who is their neighbour, as rapists, criminals. We hear the calumny. We are appalled. But the words have been said. And the words have been heard.
The shooting has also had an effect on the federal Conservative Party leadership race, where candidate Kellie Leitch has proposed a "Canadian values" test for new immigrants that critics say would amount to religious and racial discrimination. In an interview, Ms. Leitch said it is "ridiculous" to link her proposal to the mosque attack, arguing her "values" test could equally be applied to white supremacists trying to enter the country. (Asked why she has never referenced white supremacists before, she said, "Well, do you think that Canadians share those values? I don't.")
Heartbreaking news out of Quebec City tonight. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims.— Kellie Leitch (@KellieLeitch) January 30, 2017
Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong has directly linked the Quebec attack to the political climate surrounding immigration, pointing to the U.S. immigration plan and accusing politicians of normalizing hate speech.
This mosque attack is no accident: It's a direct result of demagogues and wannabe demagogues playing to fears and prejudices 1/3— Michael Chong (@MichaelChongMP) January 30, 2017
Politicians talking division, not unity, help normalize hate. Not acceptable, enough is enough, stop 2/3— Michael Chong (@MichaelChongMP) January 30, 2017
And yes, I'm angry. This is Canada. This was an attack on real Canadian values enshrined in the Charter: religious freedom 3/3— Michael Chong (@MichaelChongMP) January 30, 2017
Another leadership candidate, Kevin O'Leary, got in hot water for posting a video of himself firing high-powered weapons at a Miami gun range. It was posted just as the Thursday funeral for three of the victims was under way. Hours later, Mr. O'Leary tweeted that he had taken the video down out of respect. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, meanwhile, called the timing of the video "obviously crass, insensitive and exceedingly dumb."
Out of respect for today’s service I have taken down my last post.— Kevin O'Leary (@kevinolearytv) February 2, 2017
With reports from Les Perreaux, Nicolas Van Praet, Verity Stevenson, Tu Thanh Ha, Ingrid Peritz, Sean Gordon, André Picard, Rhéal Séguin, Daniel Leblanc, Colin Freeze, Laura Stone, Marty Klinkenberg, Sunny Dhillon and The Canadian Press
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