It happened quickly and with a cold precision. When it was over, a trail of blood and bodies covered the downstairs prayer room of Quebec City's busiest mosque.

The evening prayer Sunday at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec began around 7:30 p.m. About 15 minutes later, their prayers done, most of the mosque's members began to leave.

Some stayed behind to chat, others to continue praying. 

Rachid Aoume was by the far-side wall, talking with some friends, when he heard something that sounded like a firecracker and breaking glass coming from outside.

He stood up, alarmed at first, but then shrugged it off. Nothing to worry about, he told the others.

But then the sound came again, this time closer, louder. "That's when we realized they were gunshots," Aoume said.

Minbar at Quebec City mosque

The minbar (where an imam leads prayer) in the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. Bloodstains can be seen on the carpet. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

He ran to take cover in a narrow alcove by the minbar, the spot where the imam leads prayer. It is located directly opposite from the two arched entranceways to the prayer room.

Aoume was among the last to reach the alcove. He looked back at the entranceway and saw the attacker shoot three people to his right.

"He was calm," Aoume said. "He said nothing."

On the other side of the room, not far from the shooter, Said Akjour was hiding behind a pillar, making a calculation about the best way to die. 

QUEBEC MOSQUE SHOOTING 20170201

Bullet holes punctured the alcove wall where several mosque members tried to take cover when the shooting started. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"Either I could die where I was, or I could with my brothers near the [minbar]," Akjour said. "I decided to die with the others."

He made a run for the alcove. But it was already crowded by the time he got there. Akjour was exposed.

"The fact that I ran seemed to stimulate him," Akjour said of the shooter. "He saw me try to escape and shot in that direction."

Akjour felt a bullet tear into his left shoulder. He stopped in his tracks and didn't move. An image of his father flashed through his mind. 

"A father should never lose a child," he remembered thinking.

At this point, though the precise timeline is unclear, the shooter appeared to reload his handgun. Akjour watched as he did it quickly, "as if he was well-trained."

Quebec City mosque shooting survivor describes attack0:30

Aoume, too, was watching. The shooter stepped back from one entranceway and moved to the other. In the middle of the room was Aoume's brother-in-law, Azzeddine Soufiane, well-known in Quebec City's Muslim community as the owner of a halal grocery store.

Soufiane, according to multiple witnesses, got up and charged the shooter. 

"It was like he decided it had to stop," Akjour said. "He saw the scope of what was happening and said I have to do something."

Mosque

A bloodstain mars the table near the two entranceways to the male prayer room at the mosque. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

But the shooter was able to get a shot off quickly. Soufiane dropped. Then he was shot several more times.

"I saw that while looking out from the corner," Aoume said.

The shooter then shot several times toward those huddled in the alcove.

And then just as suddenly as it started, the shooting stopped just before 8 p.m. Those who were there are not sure why; one suggested it may have been because the shooter ran out of ammunition. 

"He didn't say anything. He did it in cold blood," said Akjour, sitting at his kitchen table, arm in a sling, his six-year-old son playing in the living room.   

"He didn't shout, he didn't speak. He shot and then he left."

With files from Marika Wheeler, Alison Northcott and Kate McKenna