MOSQUE RE­OPENS:

‘The mes­sage is we will still pray, even with blood on the floor,’ Que­bec City con­gre­gant says

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - GIUSEPPE VALIANTE

Mem­bers of Que­bec City’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity walked over thick crusts of blood dried into the car­pet of their mosque on Wed­nes­day as they re­turned to the scene of last week­end’s car­nage where six men were shot to death.

Blood was ev­ery­where: on the prayer car­pet, the walls, ta­bles and in foot­prints lead­ing to the base­ment where peo­ple took refuge from the shooter.

Ahmed El­re­fai, a wor­ship­per, pointed to sev­eral spots of blood across the room and said that was where his friends were hit.

“Some­one was shot un­der the mic,” he said, point­ing to a dried pool of blood near a prayer car­pet at the front of the room.

El­re­fai said de­spite the stains and bul­let holes in the win­dows and walls, three men re­turned to the mosque Wed­nes­day morn­ing to kneel for prayers.

He said Mus­lims in Que­bec City wanted the mosque to re­open as soon as pos­si­ble, just days af­ter a shooter killed the six men and wounded sev­eral oth­ers. “The mes­sage is that we will still pray, even with blood on the floor,” he said.

Mosque vice-pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Labidi says he wanted to open the cen­tre to the pub­lic so peo­ple could see what wor­ship­pers had to suf­fer.

The six vic­tims, aged be­tween 39 and 60, were killed when a gun­man stormed the mosque and opened fire on men who were at­tend­ing prayer. Au­thor­i­ties have re­fused to spec­ify what type of firearm was used in the mass shoot­ing.

Labidi, stand­ing in front of a thick gob of blood at the en­trance to the car­peted prayer area, pointed down and said the re­mains be­longed to his friend, Azzed­dine Soufi­ane.

He said Soufi­ane ran to the shooter and tried to strug­gle with him, only to be shot dead.

“He was a gen­er­ous man,” Labidi said. “Gen­er­ous to the last mo­ment of his life. He is our hero.”

Since the shoot­ing, Labidi had been de­mure and quiet, but his voice rose as he spoke about his friend and his strug­gle liv­ing as a for­eigner in Que­bec City.

“We went to univer­sity to­gether, he got a PhD in ge­ol­ogy — and he couldn’t find a job in this city be­cause his name was Azzed­dine Soufi­ane.” He forged his own path and started a gro­cery store, Labidi said. “I didn’t want to talk about it be­cause it wasn’t the time to do it ... but go to taxi stands and you’ll see PhDs and peo­ple with mas­ter’s de­grees be­cause we do not find jobs here.”

Ahmed El-Ghan­douri wiped away tears as he spoke about know­ing Soufi­ane for 35 years and help­ing him start his gro­cery store.

“This is my se­cond home,” he said. “But we have to re­turn here. We don’t have the choice. We have to clean, put it back in or­der. And we wel­come peo­ple to come and see what Is­lam is re­ally about.”

Mosque pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Yan­gui said wit­nesses told him the shooter, once he emp­tied his weapon, ran out of the prayer area and hid be­hind a wall near the front door of the mosque.

“He was scared, it was in that space where he reloaded,” Yan­gui said. “Then he came out and started shoot­ing.

“The shooter had three guns, in­clud­ing an AK-47 but, I don’t know why, he wasn’t able to use it. If I was there on Sun­day night I would have been dead for sure. I’m al­ways at the front of the room, that’s where he started shoot­ing.”

Yan­gui said the six bod­ies have been re­turned to their fam­i­lies.

All but one will be flown out of the coun­try for burial.

Yan­gui said there is no Mus­lim ceme­tery in Que­bec City.

Alexan­dre Bis­son­nette, 27, was ar­rested Sun­day night fol­low­ing the mas­sacre in which 19 peo­ple were also wounded, in­clud­ing two who were still in crit­i­cal con­di­tion on Tues­day.

On Mon­day, Bis­son­nette was charged with six counts of first-de­gree mur­der and five of at­tempted mur­der us­ing a restricted firearm.

JAC­QUES BOISSINOT, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mosque vice-pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Labidi, left, says he wanted to open the cen­tre to the pub­lic so peo­ple can see what wor­ship­pers had to suf­fer.

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