Quebec premier, Muslim leaders denounce deadly mosque attack
'Quebec and Canada have to remain a beacon of tolerance,' Philippe Couillard says
In a gesture of solidarity, leaders from Quebec City's Muslim community stood side by side with Premier Philippe Couillard and Mayor Régis Labeaume to denounce yesterday's deadly attack on a local mosque.
"Quebec and Canada have to remain a beacon of tolerance," Couillard said at a news conference Monday.
"It's normal in times of crisis to talk about inclusion, but the real challenge will be to maintain that two weeks from now."
At times, the premier appeared close to tears as he listened to the remarks of Muslim men and women, some of whom had lost friends in the shooting.
"I can't express the terrible sorrow that has afflicted our community with this tragedy, which occurred in a place of worship and with people who were praying," said Mohamed Labidi, former president of the Quebec City mosque, the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec).
"We are all touched by the solidarity, and it warms our heart and it lessens our sorrow."
Suspect charged with 1st-degree murder
Six men died and more than a dozen were wounded when shots were fired inside the mosque during evening prayers on Sunday.
The motive, for the moment, remains unclear.
Alexandre Bissonnette — a 27-year-old Laval University student from the nearby Quebec City suburb of Cap-Rouge — appeared in a Quebec court late Monday and was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon.
He was will remain in custody until his next court appearance on Feb. 21.
Another man was arrested outside the mosque within minutes of the shooting. By early Monday afternoon, provincial police said that man was no longer a suspect, but a witness to the shooting.
Earlier Monday, Quebec City police Insp. Denis Turcotte described how a second man had called 911 at 8:10 p.m. Sunday — 25 minutes after the shooting. Turcotte said that man told them he was armed and had been involved in the shooting.
"He seemed to want to co-operate," Turcotte said, telling police he was parked near the bridge on Île d'Orléans, where he was arrested without incident.
Five people wounded in the attack are still in hospital. Two will need more surgery, while the other three are stable and may be discharged soon. Another 13 people have been released, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
'Act of terrorism,' politicians concur
Couillard, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec provincial police have all called the attack a terrorist act.
"We know that this horror was based on intolerance to one specific community. It's too early to say what the message they want to send," Couillard said.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre cut short a trip to Europe, where he was promoting Montreal's 375th anniversary, and flew home as soon as he learned about the shooting.
"I was disgusted this morning when I heard the tragedy that happened in Quebec City," he said.
Coderre said he'd just been to Nice to meet the mayor and pay tribute to victims of last year's terrorist attack in that city, and he'd planned to travel to Berlin to do the same.
Surrounded by members of Montreal's Muslim community and leaders of other faiths, Coderre spoke of the need for unity.
"It is not a time to build walls," Coderre said. "It is a time to build bridges."
Mosque targeted in the past
The Islamic cultural centre of Quebec was previously the target of xenophobic messaging and vandalism.
Last June, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a pig's head was left on its doorstep.
Investigators, however, have not found any connection between that event and Sunday's shooting, said Robert Pigeon, Quebec City's police chief.
Politicians and community leaders will attend a vigil in Quebec City Monday evening. Other ceremonies have been planned across the country.
A message on the mosque's Facebook page said: "Thank you for the hundreds of compassionate messages coming from everywhere."
With files from Melissa Fundira