2 arrested after torching of car belonging to head of Quebec City mosque

Two men have been arrested in connection with several fires, including the torching of a car belonging to the head of a Quebec City mosque.

Incident occurred about 36 hours after city announced land sale for Muslim cemetery

A car was torched on Aug. 6 outside the home of Mohamed Labidi, the leader of the Quebec City mosque. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Two men have been arrested in connection with last month's torching of a car belonging to the head of a Quebec City mosque.

A 33-year-old man, Mathieu Bilodeau, was arrested Thursday and was charged with five counts of arson in court Friday.

He was also arrested in connection with four other arson cases occurring between July 16 and Aug. 17 in the city's Sainte-Foy–Sillery–Cap-Rouge borough, said Lt. Jean-François Vézina of the Quebec City police.

"We're talking about someone who demonstrates an interest in fire who may also have a mental health issue," Vézina said. The other fires were set in garbage containers behind local businesses and institutions.

The second suspect was arrested Friday morning in connection with the car torching, thanks to the first man's interviews with investigators. He is meeting with police, Vézina told reporters Friday morning, but has not yet appeared in court.

The torching took place on Aug. 6 outside Mohamed Labidi's home, about 36 hours after he appeared alongside Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume to celebrate the sale of city-owned land to the Muslim community for the creation of a cemetery.

Labidi is president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.

Police say they are considering the torching a hate-related crime because they believe the suspects targeted Labidi because he is Muslim, although the men didn't know his role at the centre.

They both live near Labidi's home.

'Crime of a heinous nature'

Vézina said the torching is being considered a "crime of a heinous nature." 

The other arson cases for which Bilodeau was charged did not target specific groups or people, he said.

Mohamed Labidi's car was torched on Aug. 6. (submitted)

Police initially kept the incident from the public, saying it was in the interests of both the Labidi family and the police investigation.

The mosque went public three weeks later, prompting calls for local police to ramp up their fight against anti-Muslim attacks. 

Vézina said there are no known links between the car torching and other incidents targeting the mosque. 

When asked whether the police force was considering establishing a hate crimes unit, Vézina said there weren't any plans to despite calls for one, and that it "would not make a difference" in the investigations.

Six people were shot dead at the mosque last January. Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, faces six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm in the attack.

Mohamed Labadi, president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, right, appeared with Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, centre, and Boufeldja Benabdallah, interim co-ordinator at the Islamic Culture Centre, after Labeaume announced a Muslim cemetery would be established in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press )

With files from Catou MacKinnon