A French-Canadian university student was identified Monday as the alleged shooter who killed six people and wounded 19 others as they prayed in a Quebec City mosque — an assault the Canadian prime minister called a “terrorist attack.”
The suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was an anthropology and political science student at the University of Laval, the oldest French-language university in North America, a source told Reuters.
Bissonnette — who was not previously known to police — lived with his parents in a single-family home on Tracel Street in the Cap-Rouge district, where police conducted a search Monday.
Bissonnette’s father is listed in the sales deed as an investigator, the Montreal Gazette reported.
Authorities earlier Monday named two suspects, but a Canadian of Moroccan descent was later said to be a witness to the Sunday night bloodbath at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in the Ste-Foy.
A possible motive for the attack has not been released.
“Nothing indicates to us that there was anyone else involved,” said Martin Plante, a superintendent with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “It is a domestic investigation at this time.”
The suspect was caught about 12 miles away from the mosque, near l’île d’Orleans, after he called 911, police Inspector Denis Turcotte said.
“He was armed and spoke to us about his acts,” Turcotte said, the National Post of Canada reported. “He seemed to want to cooperate….The suspect said he was waiting for the police to arrive.”
About 50 people were in the mosque when the shooting began at about 7:30 p.m., police spokeswoman Coulombe said. The victims, all men, ranged in age from 35 to 60, police said. Thirty-nine people were unharmed.
Five people were in critical condition and 14 others suffered minor injuries, according to the Centre Hospitalier Universite Laval, the National Post reported.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the attack as a terrorist act, which came amid heightened tensions worldwide over President Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim countries.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center 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.
President Trump called Trudeau Monday to offer his condolences, the prime minister’s office said.
Trudeau had earlier reacted to Trump’s order by tweeting Saturday: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”
While police have not yet called the attack an act of terrorism, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard echoed Trudeau’s characterization.
“It’s a murderous act directed at a specific community,” he said at a news conference, CBC reported. “I think the majority of citizens, not just in Quebec but elsewhere, would describe it that way.”
Couillard shared a message of solidarity with Quebec’s Muslim community.
“We are with you. You are at home. And you are welcome at home,” he said.
Ali Hamadi, who had left the mosque minutes before the attack, started getting phone calls telling him about the carnage. One of his good friends, Abdelkrim Hassen, was killed.
“He was my friend, my colleague. We worked together in the civil service for the Quebec government. Had I not left early I could have among the victims,” Hamadi told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail.
When Hamadi identified his friend’s body at the hospital all he could think about was the anguish Hassen’s wife and three young daughters would suffer.
“Such a tragic event. How can his children ever come to grasp how their father could have been murdered while praying in a mosque?” Hamadi told the paper.
A witness told the Globe and Mail that he was in the mosque when a man walked in and started shooting “everything that was moving.”
“It was someone who mastered weapons because it was calm,” the man, who did not give his name, told the paper. “He killed and he killed. It was really horrible.”
He said he lay on his stomach as the man emptied his weapon. Then, he said, the gunman just stopped and left.
“I’m shocked,” he said. “We thought that here, we were in a safe city, a safe country. But unfortunately that’s not the case.”
The mosque’s president, Mohammed Yangui, who was not inside when the shooting erupted, said he got desperate calls from people at evening prayers, which are usually attended by 60 to 100 people.
“A mass shooting. In Quebec City. I can’t believe it,” he said, the Globe and Mail reported. “We’ve never done anything to provoke anyone, and we’ve never cultivated hatred for anyone. I’m just beside myself.”
He said the attacker worked his way through two floors of the mosque, reloading as he went.
“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” he said.
Meanwhile, the New York Police Department said it was stepping up patrols at mosques and other houses of worship.
“NYPD is providing additional protection for mosques in the city. All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something,” Mayor 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,” HIzzoner said in another tweet.
Couillard said security would be ramped up at mosques in Quebec City and Montreal.
“We are with you. You are home,” Couillard told the province’s Muslim community. “You are welcome in your home. We are all Quebecers. We must continue together to build an open welcoming and peaceful society.”
Hours after the shooting, the Centre sportif de Sainte Foy acted as a hub where concerned residents congregated.
Gazi Hamrouni had spent six hours looking for a friend of 20 years.
“He was the first I called when I heard the news,” Hamrouni told The Globe and Mail. “His phone didn’t pick up, now it’s dead and I’ve been to every hospital in the city, several times.”
He said no one was able to provide information about his friend, who wasn’t on the injured list.
“He doesn’t work Sunday nights so this is the place he would be (the mosque) — he lives five minutes away from it,” he said.
Abder Dhakkar and four other men were frustrated at the lack of communication to the families of victims.
“Shouldn’t there be someone we can go to know what’s going on?” Dhakkar told the paper.
Others at the center said they were there because they felt they had to be.
“Out of solidarity,” said Lehachie Hakim, a 54-year-old father who was with his two sons. “My youngest is completely traumatized. He was crying. It’s shocking; I never thought this would happen.”
Francois Deschamps, an organizer of a refugee-support group in Quebec City, said right-wing groups are very organized in the city, distributing fliers at the university and plastering stickers around town.
Deschamps said he has 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.
The mosque has already been the target of hate. In June 2015, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Practicing Muslims do not eat pork.
Other mosques in Canada have been targeted with racist graffiti in recent months, but Sunday’s attack came on the heels of the country’s vow to welcome Muslims and refugees after Trump’s action Friday sparked worldwide outrage and travel chaos.
Canada is generally very welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but the French-speaking province of Quebec has had a long-simmering debate about race and religious accommodation.
With Post wires