It’s not a community known for violence.
While Montreal has been the site of some of the country’s worst mass murders in recent memory, be it the Polytechnique massacre or Dawson College, Quebec City has previously avoided violence on that scale.
Last year in the city, there was only one homicide on record, and the murder before that came some 16 months prior, which might help explain why the people of Quebec City were so badly shaken Monday in the wake of the rampage at a mosque on Sunday.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm.
‘It reminds me of when I lived in Yemen — always we had bombings everywhere. I said to myself today, why is this culture following me everywhere?’ – Salah Abdullah
“What happened has really shocked me. I never expect such a thing in Quebec City,” Salah Abdullah, a distraught Laval University doctoral student, said in an interview with CBC News, as he looked on at the defiled mosque Monday.
“I never lock the door of my house. It’s really very safe. It reminds me of when I lived in Yemen — always we had bombings everywhere. I said to myself today, why is this culture following me everywhere?”
Now that sort of horror has washed up on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in the heartland of la belle province, as a gunman with unknown motivations indiscriminately killed six Muslim men Sunday, injuring 19 others, some critically.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the vigil Monday night only steps away from the mosque. “The community lived through an experience that no community should ever have to cope with: indescribable violence targeted at individuals that had met in friendship and in faith,” he said.
Abdullah is a regular parishioner at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, a nondescript structure that looks as if it would be more at home in a suburban corporate park rather than a place of worship nestled between historic row houses in North America’s oldest city.
He came to the scene of the crime like many other Quebecers, to engage in a process of collective mourning.
The vigil was eerily quiet, despite the presence of thousands crammed into a small cordoned-off area. Among the few audible sounds was sobbing from a multicultural group of mourners.
The Yemen-born Abdullah had skipped Sunday prayer, he said, narrowly avoiding the gunfire, but wouldn’t miss the chance to say good-bye to those he knew who lost their lives at the hands of the gunman.
A relative newcomer to the area, Abdullah said his heart ached for one victim in particular, Azzedine Soufiane, who owned a halal corner store — a dépanneur — only a few blocks from the mosque, a favourite destination for locals with a hankering for the delicacies of the Middle East.
Abdullah said Soufiane was particularly close to his youngest daughter.
“What came to mind when they told me Azzedine had passed away was, ‘Oh my God, how can his daughter survive without her dad.’ I feel bad for the daughter. I remember her hugging him and playing with him in the shop.”
Amadi Bouameid, another local man, shuffling along the streets around the mosque Monday, said Azzedine was a pillar of the community, always willing to lend a helping hand. “He was someone kind. It’s truly sad that this happened.”
Community leaders implored reporters to tell the stories of the dead, and remember them not only as statistics.
According to the Quebec coroner’s office, the victims are:
- Azzeddine Soufiane, 57.
- Khaled Belkacemi, 60.
- Aboubaker Thabti, 44.
- Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42.
- Ibrahima Barry, 39.
- Abdelkrim Hassane, 41.
“I want for the media to personify the dead people, each one. It’s a family, a partner, part of a family, a father, and I want this humanity to be in your media,” Mohamed Labidi, the former president of the mosque, said at an emotional press conference flanked by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Régis Labeaume, Quebec’s mayor, ahead of the vigil.
“We have professor at university, we have shopkeepers, and we have many key contributors to society.”
Khaled Belkacemi was the professor Labidi referred to — an Algerian-born expert of soil and agri-food engineering at Laval University.
“It’s a heavy loss,” Hani Antoun, an associate professor in the faculty, said in an interview Monday. “He was a very competent man, and well-known in his field.”
On his Facebook page, Amir Belkacemi said his father was loved by all: “My father, a good man, an example of resilience, a man loved by all, a professor and researcher emeritus, a fighter, a man who left his country (Algeria) to give his family a chance to live far away from horror.”
Labidi said he was a good friend of Belkacemi. “He wouldn’t have hurt anyone. He was so kind
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