Quebec City mosque opens doors to reveal traces of carnage that occurred inside
WARNING: This story contains graphic images from the scene of the shooting
It's no longer an official crime scene, but the marks of what happened at a Quebec City mosque Sunday are everywhere.
There are blood stains on the beige- and turquoise-striped carpet, where men knelt in prayer. The cream-coloured walls are riddled with bullet holes and splattered with blood.
The abandoned pairs of shoes and winter boots, removed before prayers, sit side by side on the floor.
While the mosque hasn't officially reopened, members of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec returned for the first time since a gunman opened fire inside, killing six men and wounding 19 others.
They decided to open their doors to reporters so Canadians across the country would get a visceral sense of the horror that had taken place inside.
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"We're showing these images so that people who try to sow hate and increase Islamophobia stop," said the centre's vice-president, Mohamed Labidi, as he stood in the prayer room.
"Hate can lead to carnage, to the loss of innocent life, and that's what happened in this mosque."
Where a hero died
Labidi joined other members of the mosque Wednesday morning, sharing stories of what happened inside, pointing to the spots where their friends and family members were gunned down.
They pointed to one spot, where the blood is more thickly clotted than in the myriad other spots where it's found in the mosque. That's where Azzeddine Soufiane, the owner of a halal grocery store, died Sunday night.
Soufiane was safely hidden during the initial moments of the rampage, said witnesses, but he emerged to try to stop the gunman.
"He threw himself to stop the shooter and protect other victims at the same time," said Rachid Aoume, Soufiane's brother-in-law, who watched the scene from the front of the prayer room.
"At that moment, he got shot. Then he got shot once more as he was lying on the ground."
The mosque has also posted on Facebook several videos of the interior, taken just after police finished processing the scene.
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'We won't go away'
Over the course of Wednesday morning, members of the mosque dropped by to pay their respects, chat, embrace and share their stories inside the space they are determined to reclaim.
Many broke into tears upon entering the downstairs prayer room.
Ahmed Elrefai, one of the mosque's administrators, acknowledged that for some, it will take time until they are ready to pray again at the mosque.
But he said he and his fellow administrators are planning to do renovations and change the look of the space. They are moving forward.
"We are all Canadians," Elrefai said. "We live in Quebec so we are Québécois, and we're going to stay here, and this is our message to people."
Negi Gadab was among a handful of people who attended prayers Wednesday morning.
It wasn't easy for him to return, he said. He lost people he considered to be close friends in the shooting but said life must go on.
"The mosque must reopen," he said. "We must say to terrorists that we're here and we won't go away. We don't want them to attain their goal: that we stop praying."
Amel Henchiri said she returned to the mosque, a place that she said was often full of kids, life and unbridled joy, to face the pain.
"Before the shooting, this was our place of worship," she said, tears in her eyes. "It was our place of peace. But today, it will remind us that humans make mistakes. It will remind us that there are people in the world who don't accept difference.
"In spite of the pain, it's our right to be here."
It wasn't only members of the mosque who came by to express their solidarity. Several non-Muslims, moved by the tragedy, also felt the need to visit and show support.
Normand Morneau came with his wife and handed over a $100 cheque to the leaders of the mosque.
"It's important for the [Muslim] community to stay in Quebec City. That's important to us. We share the community," Morneau said.
When Claude Carrier, a retired university professor who lives nearby, entered the mosque, he extended his hand to the first member of the mosque he came across. He was given a warm hug in return.
"I just came to say you are our friends, you are our neighbours, our colleagues. You are part of us," he said. "I haven't stopped crying since it happened."
with files from Jessica Rubinger, Alison Northcott, Kate McKenna and Ryan Hicks