The gunmen began shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre on Sunday night when some 50 people were inside the mosque. The attack took place around 8pm local time.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau condemned the shooting, calling it a terrorist attack.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge,” the prime minister wrote in a statement. “Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, city, and country.”
Two suspects arrested as probe begins
Authorities were also treating the shooting as a terrorist attack, Quebec police spokesperson Christine Coulombe said. Police arrested two suspects but did not provide further information due to the probe being in its initial stage. They did, however, refute earlier witness statements that a third gunman may have been involved.
The motive for the attack was not clear.
Though five deaths were initially reported, Coulombe confirmed the gunmen had killed six individuals between the ages of 35 to 70 and wounded eight more, some of them seriously. Of the approximately 50 individuals who were in the mosque at the time of the attack, 39 escaped uninjured, she added.
The mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui, who was not in the mosque at the time of the attack but received frantic calls from the prayer attendees, said the shooting took place in the men’s section of the mosque and children may have been among the victims.
Shortly after the shooting occurred, a heavily armed tactical squad was seen entering the building. Police later reported they had secured the premises and evacuated all occupants.
Canadian leaders respond
In an early Monday morning press conference, the visibly-shaken Quebec city mayor, Regis Labeaume, expressed his horror at the attack. “No person should have to pay with their life, for their race, their colour, their sexual orientation, or their religious beliefs,” he said.
In addition to his statement, Trudeau tweeted his condolences to those directly affected by the shooting.
Quebec’s premier, Philippe Couillard, called for unity in the face of violence. “Solidarity with Muslims of Quebec,” he tweeted.
Couillard also announced solidarity rallies would take place across the city on Monday.
It is not the first attack on a mosque in Canada. In 2013 police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of Quebec was splattered with pig’s blood. In 2015, a mosque was set on fire in the neighbouring province of Ontario. Last year, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the same mosque where Sunday’s attack took place.
New York steps up protection
Canada’s southern neighbour also reacted to the attack. In a series of tweets, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio expressed his condolences for the victims of the attack. He called on New Yorkers to remain vigilant and united and announced that the New York police department would be providing extra protection at mosques throughout the city.
The Quebec mosque shooting comes in the wake of US president Donald Trump’s order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from travelling to the US and suspending the US refugee programme. Large protests opposing the order sprang up across the United States, and many international leaders criticised the ban as discriminating against Muslims, including Trudeau, who said that Canada would continue to welcome refugees.