A French-Canadian university student has been charged with murder in connection with the mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, an act that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was charged with six murder counts and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Mr Bissonnette made a brief appearance in court on Monday under tight security wearing a white prison garment.
Six people were killed and five more remain in critical condition in hospital, after the fatal shooting during Sunday’s evening prayers in an Islamic cultural centre in the capital city of Canada’s French-speaking province.
A second man who had been arrested, Mohamed Khadir, was reclassified as a witness. Canadian authorities said it was “much too early” to know the motives behind the attack.
“While authorities are still investigating and details continue to be confirmed, it is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence,” said Mr Trudeau. “Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country.”
The six victims included father-of-three Azzeddine Soufiane, a 57-year-old grocer, and Khaled Belkacemi, 60, a professor in food science at Laval University, where Mr Bissonnette studied.
Other world leaders offered their support to Canadians, including France’s François Hollande who denounced the “odious attack”.
“France stands shoulder to shoulder with the victims and their families,” he said.
There has in recent years been a rise in the number of Muslims in Quebec, fuelling tension with some local people and sparking a debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear face-covering veils in citizenship ceremonies. It was an issue in the 2015 Canadian election, during which Mr Trudeau called efforts to ban Muslim veils “acts of fear and division”.
The shooting in Quebec follows a weekend in which Mr Trudeau found himself at odds with Donald Trump over the US president’s order to block people entering the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Mr Trudeau tweeted a photo of himself welcoming a refugee to Canada, declaring “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith”.
Canada, which has much tighter gun laws than the US, suffers far fewer shootings than its neighbour, leaving many Canadians rattled by Sunday’s violence. “Despite the peace we live in, we are not immune to the fates,” said Régis Labeaume, mayor of Quebec City.
The number of hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims more than doubled from 45 in 2012 to 99 in 2014, according to Statistics Canada, a government agency.
In June, a severed pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the same Quebec mosque during Ramadan with a note that said “bonne appetit”. In Ontario, a neighbouring province, a mosque was set on fire the day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
Boosting Canada’s refugee intake was one of Mr Trudeau’s campaign promises, as part of his pledge to revive Canada’s image abroad. Canada says it aims to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees this year, after taking nearly 40,000 in 2016.
On Sunday, Canada’s immigration minister defended the policy, extolling the importance of a “compassionate and humanitarian” immigration system.
“Canada is a country of immigrants,” Ahmed Hussen told reporters in Ottawa, while addressing Mr Trump’s actions. “We have always welcomed people in need of protection and will continue to do so.”
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