Trudeau slams ‘terror attack’ -  Amir sends condolences 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comments on the Quebec City mosque shootings in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. All of Canada is nursing a broken heart in solidarity with the country's Muslim community following a deadly terrorist attack at a mosque in Quebec City, Trudeau said Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

QUEBEC CITY/TORONTO: Police were investigating a single suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people, which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as a “terrorist attack”. A second person who was arrested now considered a witness, authorities said yesterday. The sole suspect in the attack on Sunday evening prayers was Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian university student, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The man now considered a witness was of Moroccan descent although his nationality was not immediately known, the source said. He was named by media as Mohamed Khadir or Mohammed Belkhadir by media. Police declined to give details of those arrested or possible motives for the shooting at the mosque, the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec.

Authorities initially said they had arrested two suspects, but in a Twitter message, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that “following the investigation, the second individual is now considered as a witness”. Police said yesterday morning they were confident no other suspects were involved in the attack. “They consider this a lone wolf situation,” the source said. In addition to the six killed, five people were critically injured and 12 were treated for minor injuries, a spokeswoman for the Quebec City University Hospital said.

Trudeau told the House of Commons in Ottawa: “Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack,” adding a personal message to Canada’s one million Muslims: “Know that we value you. You enrich our shared country in immeasurable ways. It is your home. Last night’s horrible crime against the Muslim community was an act of terror committed against Canada and against all Canadians. We will grieve with you. We will defend you. We will love you. And we will stand with you.” Somber parliamentarians observed a moment of silence. He was heading to Quebec City later yesterday, a spokesman said. US President Donald Trump called Trudeau to express his condolences “and offered to provide any assistance as needed,” said Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad.

HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent a cable of condolences yesterday to the Governor General of Canada David Johnston. In the cable, the Amir expressed sincere condolences and sorrow over the victims of the attack. HH the Amir affirmed Kuwait’s strong condemnation of such terrorist acts against houses of worship that contradict all humanitarian laws, values, and principles. He also reiterated Kuwait’s firm stand against all forms of terrorism, praying to Allah Almighty to bestow his mercy and forgiveness on the deceased, place them in his heavens and grant patience and solace to their families. HH the Amir also wished speedy recovery for the wounded. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables.

The attack was out of character for Quebec City, a city of just over 500,000 which reported just two murders in all of 2015. Mass shootings are rare in Canada, where gun control laws are stricter than in the United States. The shooting came over a weekend when Trudeau said Canada would welcome refugees, speaking in response to Trump’s order to halt the US refugee program and to temporarily bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Trump’s action, which the president said was aimed at protecting Americans from the threat of attacks by militant Islamists, was widely condemned in the United States and abroad as targeting Muslims.

A father of four, the owner of a halal butcher near the mosque, was among those killed, said Pamela Sakinah El-hayet, a friend of one of the people at the mosque. The mosque concierge was killed, as was Ahmed Youness, a 21-year-old student, El-hayet told Reuters. One of El-hayet’s friends, Youness’ roommate, was in the mosque at the time of the shooting. He was unharmed, she said, but in total shock.

Ali Assafiri, a student at Universite Laval, said he had been running late for the evening prayers at the mosque, near the university in the Quebec City area. When he arrived, the mosque had been transformed by police into a crime scene. “Everyone was in shock,” Assafiri said by phone. “It was chaos.” Universite Laval is the oldest French-language university in North America, with 42,500 students. The mosque has already been the target of hate: A pig’s head was left on the doorstep last June during the holy month of Ramadan. Other mosques in Canada have been targeted with racist graffiti in recent months.

Vigils were planned for Montreal and Quebec City, the provincial capital, as well as in Edmonton later yesteday. There was an outpouring of support for the mosque on social media. Citizens for Public Justice, a group of Canadian Christians, churches and other religious congregations, expressed their solidarity with the Muslim community of Quebec City. “Last night’s shooting, targeting people of faith during their worship and prayer, is a deplorable attack on all Canadians and our most deeply-held values,” the group’s executive director, Joe Gunn, said.

While the motive for the shooting was not known, incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. The face-covering, or niqab, became a big issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election, especially in Quebec, where the majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies. Pope Francis offered his condolences to Cardinal Gerald Cyprien LaCroix, Archbishop of Quebec, who was visiting Rome yesterday. “The pope underlined how important it is in these moments that everyone remains united in prayer, Christians and Muslims,” the Vatican said in a statement. – Agencies