Lone wolf attack suspected in mosque shooting, Canadian officials say

A suspect is in custody for the Sunday attack, which left six worshippers dead. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the shooting as 'a terrorist attack on Muslims,' although police have not provided a possible motive.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Members of Parliament take part in a moment of silence after party leaders delivered statements on a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on January 30, 2017.

A shooting attack at a Quebec City mosque that left six people dead Sunday evening was likely perpetrated by a lone wolf actor, investigators said Monday.

Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian university student, is suspected of acting alone to carry out the attack, which occurred during a prayer service at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Among those killed were the mosque’s concierge, a father of four, a university professor, and a 21-year-old student, officials said. Five others sustained critical injuries, while a dozen more received treatment for minor injuries.

"Quebec is a good, generally loving society but we have these devils as other societies have," Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said. "We have to recognize that and fight them."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the shooting "a terrorist attack on Muslims." Police, however, did not discuss a possible motive.

"We are with you," Mr. Trudeau said in Parliament, speaking to Muslims across the country.

The shooting took place just a day after Trudeau tweeted a message of welcome to those denied access to the United States under President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations, as well as placing a four-month hold on refugees.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength,” the prime minister wrote on Twitter Saturday.  

Mr. Trump called Trudeau to express his condolences and offer assistance after the attack, according to a spokesperson for the prime minister.

Traditionally, Canada has taken an open arms approach to immigrants and refugees, and Trudeau has become a globally recognized advocate for Syrian refugees. During his first year in office, Trudeau welcomed 39,000 Syrian refugees, while the US, which has a population almost 10 times that of its northern neighbor, settled just over 12,000.

Still, religious tensions simmer beneath the society’s surface, especially in Quebec. The province’s former separatist government previously called for bans on religious symbols, such as hijabs, in public institutions. Last summer, someone left a severed pig’s head on the same mosque’s steps during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. In recent months, the mosque has received hate mail and become a target of swastika graffiti.

Around 50 people were at the mosque during Sunday evening’s attack. Police initially arrested two suspects, but now say the second is a witness to the shooting.

"It's a very, very big tragedy for us," Mohamed Labidi, the mosque’s vice president, told the Associated Press. "We have a sadness we cannot express."

People across Canada have come together in solidarity, condemning the attack and mourning those who lost their lives. Montreal, Ottawa, Alberta, and other cities and towns planned to hold vigils Monday evening. Police have ramped up their patrol efforts around mosques in various parts of the country, and New York City police have followed suit.   

"There's great sadness," Imam Sikander Hashmi of the Kanata Muslim Association, who is also a spokesperson for the Canadian Council of Imams, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.

"I think myself and a lot of people are shaken. It's something that sometimes crosses our minds, just very remotely, and then we think, 'No it can't happen here, we live in Canada.' But unfortunately, as we see, anything can really happen anywhere."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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