Montreal

New Zealand mosque attacks leave Quebec Muslims feeling 'indescribable pain'

Muslims in Quebec who endured the mosque attack two years ago that killed six people say they are deeply troubled by today's shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that have left dozens dead and injured.

'I don't know why they're targeting our community,' said Kais Chaouache, a member of Quebec City mosque

Quebec City mosque president Boufeldja Benabdallah reacted to the shootings in New Zealand on Friday.  (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Muslims in Quebec who endured the mosque attack two years ago that killed six people say they are deeply troubled by Friday's shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that have left dozens dead and injured.

At least one man, an Australian, is charged with murder following the attacks in Christchurch during Friday prayers.

It's believed that man may have been in some way influenced by Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette.

Photos of the ammunition believed to belong to the New Zealand accused and that were posted on a Twitter account that has now been suspended show the name of Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty in the 2017 shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, alongside the names of others who had committed race- or religion-based killings.

"I don't know why they're targeting our community," said Kais Chaouache, a member of the Quebec City mosque, said Friday. 

"We integrate well everywhere in the world. We try to be ambassadors of peace."

Chaouache, who has lived in Quebec for 15 years, said it's worrisome that safety seems to be diminishing. 

"Here, we belong to Quebec society; we are Quebecers. In New Zealand, same thing. Why were they targeted by this act?"

Police and ambulance staff help a wounded man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch on Friday. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Mosque president Boufeldja Benabdallah said Friday's shooting brought back painful memories.

"I feel the pain they are feeling this morning, like the families here felt. I sympathize with them," Benabdallah said Friday morning.

"We have to get to work again to put a stop to extremism."

Police in Montreal, Quebec City, Longueuil and Gatineau were among those to increase security near mosques on Friday.

Listen to what the head of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre said about the New Zealand shootings:

Quebec City mosque president Boufeldja Benabdallah speaks about the shootings at two mosques in Chistchurch, New Zealand during Friday prayers. 0:39

'It hit like a ton of bricks'

"When I heard the news, it hit like a ton of bricks," Mohammed Labidi, a co-founder and former president of the Quebec City mosque, told Radio-Canada on Friday morning.

Labidi called the events deplorable.

"It's sad that the world hasn't learned a lesson after what happened to the innocent people who died here."

Mohammed Labidi, co-founder and former president of the Quebec City mosque that was targeted in the 2017 shooting, said the New Zealand attack Friday 'brings up the pain that we experienced here.' (Radio-Canada)

Alpha Barry, who is distantly related to two of the Quebec City mosque shooting victims, said it's a difficult day for his community. 

"Everybody's looking for answers to this, but still, for many years, for many decades, we're asking why. We still don't have [an] answer," he said. 

Mehmet Deger, the imam at a mosque in Dorval, Que., said these types of actions are intended to divide the community, and the alleged shooter in New Zealand was brainwashed and isn't a reflection of society as a whole.

"Alexandre Bissonnette is another example of a brainwashed person," Deger said.

Rev. Christian Schreiner, a local Anglican priest, attended the noon prayers alongside Quebec City's Muslim community.

"It's very important to show the world that we are the same society," he said. "We are able to live together. We are able to pray at the side of each other."

Quebec's Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, for its part, released a statement calling the attacks "an assault against the values we cherish and live for." 

"We stand in solidarity with the Muslim communities across Quebec, and of course in Quebec City, and we hope and pray that this is the last time we mourn the murder at a sacred address," the statement said.

The attack was also condemned by Quebec's political leaders.

Quebec Premier François Legault expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

"We recently experienced a tragedy that affected everyone in Quebec," Legault said in a statement, referring to the Quebec City mosque shooting.

"There's no place for extremism, intolerance or violence in our democratic societies." 

About the Author

Claire Loewen

Journalist

Claire can be reached at claire.loewen@cbc.ca

With files from Marika Wheeler, Kate McKenna and Jessica Rubinger