Quebec mosque shooting: Terror suspect ID’d as vigils held across Canada

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Investigator search the parking lot at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City, Canada on January 30, 2017 Gunmen stormed into a Quebec mosque during evening prayers January 29 and opened fire on dozens of worshippers, killing six and wounding eight in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as a "terrorist attack." Canadian police sought Monday to piece together the motive for a shooting attack, one of the worst attacks ever to target Muslims in a western country. (Photo credit ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images)

QUEBEC CITY – The gunman arrived at the mosque during evening prayers.

Worshipers had gathered at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center when the suspect stepped inside the building around 8 p.m. Sunday.

Witnesses said the gunman fired indiscriminately into the crowd of men, women and children.

Six men were killed: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41; Khaled Belkacemi, 60; Aboubaker Thabti, 44; Azzeddine Soufiane, 57; and Ibrahima Barry, 39.

They were shot in the back as they gathered for evening prayers, Mohamed Labidi, vice president of the mosque, told the CBC.

Five people who were wounded remained hospitalized Monday, said a spokeswoman for Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus. The National Police of Quebec said 39 others inside the mosque were not hurt.

Authorities have not released a possible motive, but police are investigating the attack as an act of terrorism.

The same mosque had been targeted last year when it received a wrapped pig’s head and a magazine with a pig on its cover, saying “Bonne Appetit,” according to a post on its Facebook page. It alerted the police, which opened an investigation, the mosque said on Facebook then.

A community mourns

Shocked by the mosque attack, Canadians held candlelight vigils in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Alberta, and other cities to grieve for the victims and send a message of unity.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a candlelight vigil near the scene of the attack. He carried a bouquet of flowers and addressed the community.

“We stand with you,” he said Monday night. “We love you. We support you. We will always defend and protect your right to gather together to pray, today and every day.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also sought to reassure Muslims after the attack.

“We are with you,” he said. “This is your home. You’re welcome here. We’re all Quebecers.”

The suspect

Alexandre Bissonnette, who is accused of the mosque attack, faces six counts of first-degree murder and five attempted murder charges, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec.

Police initially said two gunmen attacked the mosque but later concluded that the second person was a witness. Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale characterized Bissonnette as a “lone wolf” and said the attack would have been difficult to prevent.

Bissonnette lived near the mosque, the CBC reported. He was a student at Laval University in Quebec City, according to the school. He was unknown to police and had not been on any watch lists, authorities said.

Between 2002 and 2004, Bissonnette participated in the Cadet Program, a nationwide youth program affiliated with the Canadian armed forces that focuses on developing skills such as leadership and citizenship, said Maj. Doug Keirstead, spokesman for the Canadian armed forces.

“Cadets are not members of the Canadian armed forces, and they do not receive military training,” Keirstead said.

Bissonnette remains in custody.

‘They were just praying’

On Monday night, a procession of candle-holding marchers spilled quietly into the snow-packed streets during a vigil and a gathering at the mosque.

Mary Christine Miller, 31, struggled to understand why the attack happened.

“Why?” she said. “They didn’t do anything to us, they were just praying.”

Two young women stopped as many people as they could and asked mourners if they wanted pins that said, “Welcome to all refugees,” in French.

Participants said they came to support Muslim residents.

The Quebec Islamic Cultural Center thanked supporters for “hundreds of messages of compassion coming from all over” on its Facebook page. It also posted pictures and videos from Monday’s events.

“We were attacked because we’re Muslims,” the center said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Shot at point-blank because we’re Muslims. Killed because we’re Muslims.”

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower turned off its lights at midnight Tuesday in honor of the victims of the mosque shooting.

By Madison Park, Julia Jones and Deborah Feyerick, CNN