Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years amid a political debate over banning the niqab.
Two people were arrested in the aftermath of the deadly shooting of a Quebec City mosque that left six people dead in the eastern Canadian province, but authorities announced Monday that only one is considered a suspect.
“Following the investigation, the second individual is now considered as a witness,” the Quebec branch of Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, wrote on its Twitter account Monday.
A source told Reuters Monday that one of the people arrested was identified as Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian, the other as Mohamed Khadir, who is of Moroccan descent, although his nationality was not immediately known.
The attack occurred Sunday around 8:00 p.m. local time during evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec City, also called the Grande Mosque de Quebec, on Sainte-Foy Street.
Six people were killed and at least eight others were wounded, the Associated Press reported. Some were taken to the University Hospital of Quebec, and others are in hospitals throughout the city, hospital spokesman Richard Fournier told CNN.
A witness told Reuters that three armed men had opened fire on about 40 people inside the mosque.
According to news agency La Presse, one of the suspects, who was later caught by police on a bridge, was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. Local newspaper Le Soleil said police told them a third suspect could still be on the run.
At least 20 emergency vehicles arrived at the scene and police quickly set up a security perimeter. Quebec City Police later confirmed that the area had been secured.
“The site is secure and the occupants (of the mosque) were evacuated. The investigation continues,” the department tweeted.
“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” said the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui.
Yangui, who was not inside the mosque when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers. He did not know how many were injured, saying they had been taken to different hospitals across Quebec City.
Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years amid a political debate over banning the niqab. In 2013, police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of Quebec was splattered with what was believed to be pig’s blood. And in the neighboring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015. In June 2016, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the cultural center once again, with an Islamophobic letter being subsequently distributed in the vicinity.
According to Yangui, however, the mosque had stopped receiving threats after that.
“We have a very good relationship with the neighbors, with the community,” he told the Edmonton Journal. “There’s mutual respect – and now today we have this dramatic event.”
Canadian leaders condemned the attacks.
Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard expressed solidarity with the Muslim community, tweeting, “Let’s unite against violence…We stand in solidarity with the Muslim people of Quebec,” CNN reported.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took to social media, tweeting: “Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families,” in both French and English.
Trudeau called the shooting on Monday a “terrorist attack on Muslims.”