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Police now say one suspect linked to Quebec mosque attack

Alice Chiche / AFP | Canadian police officers respond to a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City on January 29, 2017.
5 min

Authorities who had earlier arrested two suspects linked to the Quebec City mosque shooting now say they have detained the second individual as a witness to the attack that left six people dead and injured eight.

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Police, however, didn't say which one remains the suspect in the Sunday night shooting.

Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre President Mohamed Yangui told the Associated Press in a telephone call late Sunday from the provincial capital that the shooting happened in the men's section of the mosque during evening prayers.

Quebec provincial police spokeswoman Christine Coulombe said early Monday that some of the wounded were gravely injured. She said the deceased were approximately 35 to 70 years of age. Thirty-nine people were unharmed. More than 50 were at the mosque at the time of the attack. 

One suspect was arrested at the scene and another in his car close to a bridge near d'Orleans, where he called 911 to say he wanted to cooperate with police. Police said they did not believe there were other suspects but were investigating. Police didn't give a possible motive.

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard characterised the attack as a terrorist act, which came amid heightened tensions worldwide over US President Donald Trump's travel ban on certain Muslim countries.

"We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge," Trudeau said in a statement. "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.

"Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country," he said. "Canadian law enforcement agencies will protect the rights of all Canadians, and will make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators of this act and all acts of intolerance."

Quebec City police spokesman Constable Pierre Poirier said two suspects were arrested. Police said the mosque had been evacuated and things were under control.

Trudeau said on Twitter that he spoke to Quebec's premier and was being briefed by officials. The prime minister said the government had offered "any & all assistance needed".

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Trudeau had earlier reacted to Trump's visa ban for people from certain Muslim-majority countries by tweeting Saturday: "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada."

Trudeau also posted a picture of him greeting a Syrian child at Toronto's airport in late 2015. Trudeau oversaw the arrival of more than 39,000 Syrian refugees soon after he was elected.

Couillard termed the Sunday mosque attack as "barbaric violence" and expressed solidarity with the victims' families.

The mayor of Gatineau, Quebec, near Canada's capital of Ottawa, said there would be increased police presence at mosques around his city following the attack.

The New York Police Department said it was stepping up patrols at mosques and other houses of worship in its city.

The NYPD issued a statement Sunday night saying Critical Response Command personnel had been "assigned to extended tour coverage" at certain mosques.

"NYPD is providing additional protection for mosques in the city. All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter.

"Our prayers tonight are with the people of Quebec City as they deal with a terrible attack on a mosque. We must stand together," Blasio said in another tweet.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Twitter Sunday that he was deeply saddened by the loss of life. His office said no motive had been confirmed.

In the summer of 2016 a pig's head was left on the doorstep of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.

The incident occurred in the middle of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Practising Muslims do not eat pork.

François Deschamps, an organiser of a refugee-support group in Quebec City, said the motive was unknown, but right-wing groups are very organised in Quebec City and distribute fliers at the university and plaster stickers around town.

Deschamps said he has personally received death threats after starting a refugee support group on Facebook and people have posted his address online.

"I'm not very surprised about the event," Deschamps said.

France’s President François Hollande in a statement Monday denounced the “odious” attack “in the strongest possible terms”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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