Feb 7, 2017

What happened the night of the Quebec mosque attack

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QUEBEC—It was only as he cowered inside a small prayer room, one arm around each of his young sons, that Farhat Guemri realized what he was hiding from.

Seconds before, as he knelt in prayer, a ‘pop’ had pierced through his mosque, sounding to him like firecrackers, or a rock pelting nearby windows.

Amidst the panicked crush that ensued inside his mosque’s large prayer room, he saw his boys, 10 and 12, running in the crowd. He ushered them away from a nearby exit and into a small imam’s room in the back of the mosque, believing it was safer.

As the trio crouched on the floor, taking refuge alongside seven or eight others, three men suddenly dropped to the ground immediately outside the small room. One man’s blood spattered Guemri’s sweater.

It was then that Guemri realized the danger was inside.

“I heard ‘tack tack tack tack tack,’ and all I could do was wait. Because we were there, there was nothing I could do… He was shooting at us.”

On the night of Jan. 29, members of the Centre Culturel Islamique Québec gathered inside Quebec City’s largest mosque for the most important prayer of the day. For many, it was a Sunday ritual. For others, a time to recite the Koran in the basement. For two parents, it was a convenient spot to meet in the middle and pick-up their kids after a playdate.

On this night, two lifelong friends would wave a casual goodbye that would be their last, one life saved by leaving right after prayers, the other lost for staying a few minutes longer.

Another man’s choice to return for one more prayer — taking his boots off the rack to leave, then placing them back down and re-entering the room — likely cost him his life.

There was no denying that simmering anti-Muslim sentiment, across the United States and in Quebec, was sowing fear. Just one week before, this mosque had posted on its community board a floor plan showing upcoming renovations intended to increase security.

Still, they had prayed facing Mecca, their backs to the main entrance.

The bullets unleashed just after 7:50 p.m. would kill six men and injure more, shatter some Muslims’ sense of security, and call into question presumed tolerance within Quebec and Canada.

“There was a world before January 29,” said Ramzi Khemiri, a former mosque administrator, “and there is a world after.”

(Source: The

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