'It just feels so near': Muslim community in shock after New Zealand mosque shootings

Police are stepping up their presence around mosques in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., following a pair of deadly shootings that have left the capital's Muslim community in "absolute shock."

Vigil set for 6 p.m. Friday at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument on Elgin Street

Ahmed Souissi regularly visits the mosque at the centre islamique de l'Outaouais in Gatineau. He said he's struggling to understand the motivation behind Friday's deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand. (CBC)

Police are stepping up their presence around mosques in Ottawa and the Gatineau, Que., area following a pair of deadly shootings that have left the capital's Muslim community in "absolute shock."

Forty-nine people were killed and another 42 injured in attacks at two Christchurch mosques filled with worshippers, in what New Zealand's prime minister is calling one of the country's "darkest days."

In Ottawa, police say they're following a protocol to try to help people in the community feel safe and supported.

"We have no intelligence to suggest that any group in Ottawa is allied with the suspects in New Zealand, but the possibility of a copycat lone actor is always a concern," wrote police Chief Charles Bordeleau in a letter to the community.

"Police presence alone has been shown to have a definitive effect on discouraging lone actor attackers."

An Ottawa police cruiser is parked outside the Ottawa Mosque on Northwestern Avenue, following Friday's fatal shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

'We are with you'

A gathering was held at Ottawa's main mosque, the Ottawa Muslim Association on Northwestern Avenue, at 12:15 p.m. Friday, where residents were invited "to show our solidarity."

Martin Lee, a New Zealander from Christchurch who's been living in Canada since 2007, told CBC News at the gathering that he's been to the mosque where the attack occurred.

He said news of the attack shocked him, and that he had a message for the capital region's Muslim community.

"There's a word, a phrase in Maori, the native language of New Zealand. I'm not Maori, but we use it in New Zealand. 'Kia kaha' —  it means to stand strong, effectively it expresses solidarity, it expresses that I see the person for who they are," Lee said.

"And the local New Zealand community would like to say kia kaha to the local Muslim brothers and sisters, our neighbours, our family. Kia kaha — we see you, and we are with you."

A vigil has been scheduled for 6 p.m. ET Friday at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument at the corner of Elgin and Lisgar streets.

There will also be a book of condolence available to sign at the New Zealand High Commission on the 14th floor of 150 Elgin St. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

Martin Lee organized a group of local New Zealanders to attend midday prayers at Ottawa's main mosque and express solidarity with the local Muslim community after Friday's attack. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Hard to understand

Across the river in Gatineau, police said Friday that they're sending more officers to their two mosques around prayer times.

Outside Gatineau's Outaouais Islamic Centre, Ahmed Souissi said he can't understand why this happened.

"Some people think Muslims are enemies of other nations or religions. It's not true. It's better to make an effort to understand [each other]," he said.

"There are [anti-Muslim] extremists, these things can always happen," added Benamar Boudjienan. "There are also politicians who fuel this hatred towards 'the other.'"

The centre's president Hayet Laggoune said in a statement its leadership is shocked and saddened and asks members to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Hayet Laggoune, president of the Outaouais Islamic Centre, says their hearts are with the families and wounded in New Zealand. (Lorian Bélanger/Radio-Canada)

'My hands were shaking'

Amira Elghawaby, a human rights advocate in Ottawa and a board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, woke up to the news this morning and said she was in "absolute shock."

"My hands were shaking. My stomach was aching. It was really, really difficult to read," said Elghawaby.

The situation still feels raw, she said.

"It wasn't so long ago that we were marking the second anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting," said Elghawaby.

"Being a visible Muslim … it just feels so near, even though it's so far away."

Amira Elghawaby, seen here in 2017, says her hands were shaking as she heard the the news about Friday's fatal mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Peace Tower flag lowered

Ottawa's Barâa Arar said she felt this morning that some politicians were "watering down" their condemnation of the attacks and not specifically mentioning that mosques and Muslims were involved.

"Many Muslims around the world are going to be walking into work or their mosque with fear, with sadness and [asking] how this is happening again," said Arar.

The flag on the Peace Tower is being lowered to half-mast until sunset today in memory of the victims.

The Canadian flag at the top of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill was lowered to half-mast on Friday, and will remain at half-mast until sunset. (CBC News)

With files from Krystalle Ramlakhan, Stu Mills and Claudine Richard