QUEBEC CITY (AP) — Five people were killed in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers, the president of the center said Sunday. Authorities reported two arrests in what Quebec’s premier and Canada’s prime minister called an act of terrorism.
Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre President Mohamed Yangui reported the number of dead late Sunday in a telephone call from the provincial capital.
Yangui said the shooting happened in the men’s section of the mosque. He said five males had died and he worried that some were children. He said he wasn’t at the center when the attack occurred, but he got some details from people on the scene.
He said an estimated 60-100 people would have been there at the time of the shooting. “We are sad for the families,” he said.
Authorities did not confirm the number of fatalities. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard characterized the attack as a terrorist act, which came amid heightened tensions worldwide over U.S. 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 added. “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.”
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 hours of worships 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 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.
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. Practicing Muslims do not eat pork.
Francois Deschamps, an organizer of a refugee-support group in Quebec City, said the motive was unknown, but right-wing groups are very organized 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.
Canada is generally very welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but it’s less so in the French-speaking province of Quebec.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto and Tracey Lindeman in Montreal contributed to this report.