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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

Terrorist attack in Canada

Posted on 7th February 2017 at 20:07pm

Six people were killed and about 20 wounded after a gunman (or gunmen) opened fire at a mosque in Québec City on January 29, 2017, writes Lina Kolesnikova.

Canadian authorities defined this incident as terrorist act. “We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge,” said the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in a statement following the shooting.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a vigil for the victims of the terrorist attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Québec City (Image Canadian Crown Copyright)

More than 50 people were at the Québec City Islamic cultural centre, also known as the Grande Mosquée de Québec, for evening prayers on Sunday when shooting erupted in the two-storey building. There is some confusion surrounding the number of perpetrators at the crime scene. Just after the attack, witnesses reported seeing the gunman dressed in black and wearing a ski mask walking into the mosque. Meanwhile, two men had been arrested just after the attack, but police later said that only one of them was considered a suspect. Initial reports also suggested a third accomplice was still on the run, but to this moment police say they are no longer looking for anyone else in connection with the shooting.

During a press conference, Québec City police inspector Denis Turcotte, told journalists that one of the suspects had been arrested at the scene. The second was captured about an hour later after calling 911 and identifying himself as having been involved, sharing his location with authorities and letting them know he was armed. Police also confirmed that the suspects were previously “unknown” to them. However, one of the men taken into custody was released later on Monday.

At this moment only one person has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder. So we may assume that attack was carried out by a lone-wolf and targeted Muslim prayers.

The man charged is Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French-Canadian student of anthropology and political science at Laval University. He had expressed far-right views to his entourage and on social media. However, he never indicated publicly that his plans could go further or that he considered violence to be a political tool. He is also being described as introvert and timid by his classmates.  

This attack appears very similar to the Charleston church shooting in 2015 carried out by Dylann Roof. In both cases the perpetrators were not taken seriously by their entourage and expressed white supremacy thinking on the Internet.

These cases show how difficult it might be to protect society from lone wolves. There is always a difficult balance to maintain between presumption of innocence and prevention of a potential threat. Even if a certain person is known for abnormal behaviour, this is not necessarily a reason to isolate this person. Another important consideration is the need to achieve high adaptability within police research and prevention work. The wide majority of lone wolves operate independently from large structured terrorist networks. But the organisational independence of these lone wolves does not overshadow their apparent attachment to one or a few socio-cultural movements.

The Canadian Prime Minister pictured during the vigil for the victims (Canadian Crown Copyright)

Canadian authorities reported that the age of killed victims ranged from 35 to 60. Another five people still remain in hospital, with some of them in intensive care.

Canada has a welcoming policy towards refugees and immigrants with religious diversity. Meanwhile Québec experienced several incidents just after the attacks in France (hate crimes) and hosted an intense debate over race and religious accommodation last year. Canada also experienced some outfall of the heightened tensions in the US after after President Trump’s travel ban.

The Canadian authorities have confirmed that security had been increased at all mosques across the province.

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