A terrorist attack left six dead and eight injured Sunday night, after three gunmen swarmed the Quebec City mosque during prayer, targeting worshippers. Gunmen opened fire upon 40 to 100 worshippers at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center in Canada. Police have arrested two gunmen in the vicinity of the mosque, although eye-witnesses say there was a third.
At the moment of the attack, men were praying on the ground floor of the mosque, while women and children were upstairs. An eye-witness spoke to CBC’s French-language service Radio-Canada, explaining that there was a 3-year-old child downstairs praying with his father.
“They started to fire, and as they shot, they yelled, ‘Allahu akbar!’ The bullets hit people that were praying. People who were praying lost their lives. A bullet passed right over my head,” the eyewitness said.
The congregation consists heavily of students, as the mosque is near a university. Many of the worshippers are of North African descent.
The shooting came after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Canada would welcome refugees, in direct response to Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban. “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter.
In a statement issued by Trudeau in immediate response to the mass shooting at the mosque, the attack was branded a “terrorist attack.”
“While authorities are still investigating and details continue to be confirmed, it is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear,” Trudeau said.
“They started to fire, and as they shot they yelled, ‘Allahu akbar!’ The bullets hit people that were praying. People who were praying lost their lives. A bullet passed right over my head,” the eyewitness said.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard stated, “Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence,” while offering solidarity and condolences to the families affected by the shooting. Premier Couillard stated that flags at the National Assembly, Quebec’s provincial legislature, would be lowered to half-mast.
This is not the first time that the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center was targeted with Islamophobic sentiment. In June 2016, during the holy-month of Ramadan, a severed pig’s head was left at the entrance of the mosque, along with a note that read: “Bonne appétit.” This form of expressing hatred toward Muslims has increased in popularity, with a similar incident occurring at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in Philadelphia in December 2015.
Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, a Muslim advocacy group in Quebec, explained that anti-Muslim sentiment has been increasing in Canada, although it pales in comparison to anti-Muslim experiences in the United States or Europe. According to Majzoub, “This masjid has witnessed a lot of issues before — threats and vandalism, and some Islamophobic graffiti…it’s not the first time.”
Mass shootings are very rare in Canada, due in part to stricter gun laws than the United States. Quebec City is a particularly safe metropolitan city, with only two reported murders in a city, with 800,000 residents in 2015. Nearly 7,000 residents of Quebec identify as Muslims according to the last census. The shooting comes amid widespread protest in the United States against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban, which bars entry into the United States for refugees and immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, among other Executive Orders that are not going over well with the American people.
Following the Quebec City shooting, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something.” He added, “The awful attack in Quebec is not an outlier. Today, a mosque in Texas was burned to the ground. We must stop those who seek to divide us.”