You can't disconnect terrorism from Islam, Couillard says in wake of Flint attack

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was criticized Thursday by Muslim community leaders after saying there was an obvious link between Islam and terrorism.

Muslim leaders say the premier is unfair to link terrorism with Islam

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard speaks at a ceremony ahead of the Fête nationale on Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is facing criticism from Muslim community leaders after saying there is a link between Islam and terrorism.  

Couillard made the comments Thursday in Quebec City. He was asked by a reporter whether he was concerned Quebec Muslims could face a backlash following the arrest of a Montrealer in connection with an attack earlier this week at a Michigan airport. 

On Wednesday, U.S. authorities identified Amor Ftouhi, 49, as the suspect in the stabbing of a police officer at Flint's Bishop International Airport.

The FBI is treating the attack as an act of terrorism and said the suspect shouted "Allahu akbar" as he drew his knife, which is Arabic for "God is great."

"Unfortunately, you cannot disconnect this type of event — terrorism — from Islam in general," Couillard said.

He pointed to remarks made recently by French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he said was "very eloquent about this when addressing the Muslim community in France."

"He told them 'It's also your responsibility to act on the theological front to explain to your people that this is not part of the religion — that it's contrary to the teachings of the religion,'" Couillard said.

The comments represent a departure for the premier, who normally calls for unity in the wake of such events.

A police officer stands in the back alley of the home of Amor Ftouhi in Montreal (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

In the same exchange with reporters, Couillard said that, with respect to "any intolerance, any discrimination, you know where we stand."

"We are completely against that and against any generalization to the broader community," he said.

In an attempt to explain himself, he said there were "very bad moments in our history linked to the Christian religions."

"Inquisitions, religious wars in Europe — horrible. But the religion was able to distance itself from that and come back to its principles. I expect the same will happen."

Linking Islam to terror 'wrong,' Muslim leaders say

Couillard's remarks were poorly received by prominent figures within Montreal's Muslim community. 

While agreeing that Islam, like all religions, has a responsibility to fight extremism, Hassan Guillet, spokesperson for the Council of Imams of Quebec, said drawing a connection between Islam and terrorism is wrong.

"Islam is a religion and terrorism is a crime," he said.

Mehmet Deger, president of the Dorval Mosque in Montreal's West Island, echoed Guillet's view, saying such acts are in no way linked to Islam.

"This is not Islam's fault," he said. "Islam has nothing to do with such acts."

Deger said Muslims "condemn such acts all the time" and are themselves often the targets of terror attacks.

When he was asked for comment on Ftouhi's arrest, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre was more circumspect.

"We have to await the investigations, but at the end of the line this person wasn't known … he was liked, and that's why we always have to ensure that we're being vigilant," he said.

"In light of what we've been hearing from the start, this is someone with no history. Was there a mental health issue? We'll have to wait to know more about that."

With files from Salim Valji