MONTREAL — A brutal massacre at a Quebec City mosque has left Canada reeling in shock but also unified the country in solidarity with the Muslim community, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday at a funeral service for three of the six men killed in the attack.
"It is with a heavy heart that we come together this afternoon to grieve the loss of these innocent lives. But as a community and as a country, together we will rise from this darkness stronger and more unified than ever before — that is who we are," he told the solemn crowd.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right to left) Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre pay their respects at the funeral of Quebec mosque shooting victims. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi and Aboubaker Thabti were devoted fathers who worked hard to ensure their families had a bright future — a dream Canadians across the country have known and shared for generations, Trudeau said.
Several thousand mourners packed the Maurice-Richard Arena to pay their respects to the three men, whose caskets were draped in wreaths and the flags of their homelands.
Thabti, 44, was a pharmacist of Tunisian origin who had three children; Belkacemi, a 60-year-old father of two, was from Algeria and was a professor at Universite Laval; and Hassane, 41, was from Algeria. He was a father of three and worked in information technology for the provincial government.
There were also prayers at the service for the three other victims — Azzeddine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry.
Mourners arrive as the caskets of three of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting are lined up before a funeral at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal on Thursday. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/CP)
All six were fathers, "like me, like us," said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. "They were sons and brothers and uncles — like me, like us. Friends, coworkers, like us. They were us. They were loved, appreciated, respected, and they always will be. We won't forget them," he said.
"I want to tell Muslim Quebecers: you're at home here, we are all Quebecers," he said to thunderous applause and cheers.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre blamed the deaths on "Islamophobic and racist thoughts," and urged Canadians to stamp out intolerance in their ranks.
"The time has come to ensure that after these tragic and terrible events, that we will combat all extremism in any form and that we will be there for all citizens and protect their fundamental freedoms — freedom of religion and conscience — so that anyone can fulfil their destiny in safety and security," he said.
Mourners applaud during the funeral service for three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
The support shown in the wake of the shooting shows that "the Quebecois community is a unified community," said Mohamed Yangui, president of the Islamic Centre of Quebec.
But the tragedy has also highlighted the need for greater understanding of Muslims around the world, he said.
"They must understand that we as Muslims, as moderate Muslims, we are not terrorists. We are not the terrorists," he said. "We practise a form of Islam...that means we are full-fledged and solid members of our community."
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume was also among those who spoke to the mourners. Another ceremony is expected in Quebec City on Friday.
People pray at the funeral for three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting in Montreal on Thursday. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Fazle Ahmad, who waited patiently outside the hockey arena for the doors to open, said before going in that "this terrorist act has tarnished" Canada's good image.
"We want to show that Canada is (like) a big family ... I hope that we will make our country much better than before," said Ahmad, who works at Montreal's Khadijah Centre.
Asma Qureshi and Assad Khan brought their young children to the funeral, believing the experience of seeing the community come together would be beneficial to them.
"We also want to show that a few bad apples in the community are not going to bring us apart," said Qureshi. "And for the kids to see as well that we get together for times like this and how beautiful this community is and that we're there for each other."
A man breaks down next to the caskets of three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting during funeral services in Montreal. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
The bright light in the tragedy is how Canadians have reacted and come together, she said.
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.
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.
Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder using a restricted firearm.
With files from Paola Loriggio