TSG IntelBrief: Murders in a Quebec Mosque
January 31, 2017

Murders in a Quebec Mosque


Bottom Line Up Front: 

• On January 29, a lone gunman killed six people and wounded as many as 19 more inside a Quebec mosque that had previously experienced Islamophobic incidents.

• The sole suspect—who is now in custody—is a French-Canadian university student; police have released very few further details as they continue the investigation.

• As with other terror attacks, there was a rush to cement the narrative in political or ideological terms; initial reports of a second suspect only fueled the confusion.

• The attack came hours after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointedly offered to accept refugees denied entry into the U.S. under the Trump administration’s controversial new executive order.


The aftermath of the January 29 attack inside a Quebec mosque, which killed six people and wounded as many as 19 more, provided another tragic reminder of how divided Western countries have become over the issue of terrorism. The attack at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center came amid a growing controversy over the January 27 executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump, which banned visa travel by nationals of seven countries. The stated rationale for the order was to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. from the blacklisted countries, despite the fact that almost every recent terror attack or plot inside the U.S. has been conducted by American citizens or nationals of countries not listed in the ban. In response to the U.S. ban—just hours before the attack in Quebec—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

Unsurprisingly, initial reports surrounding the attack drew widespread speculation and premature conclusions. As is often the case in breaking news reporting on possible terror attacks, initial reports were taken as hard evidence and used to create and cement a narrative that is difficult to correct later on—regardless of the actual facts. In this case, two men were initially arrested—the French-Canadian now confirmed as the lone gunman, and a man of Moroccan descent who was later released and is now considered a witness. Supporters of the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement—with its strong nationalist, racist, and anti-immigrant stances—pounced on initial reports of the Moroccan suspect as proof of the folly of Canada’s perceived openness regarding refugees. The false narrative that immigration will inevitably lead to terrorism was not confined to fringe elements; during a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer specifically mentioned the Quebec attack as a reason for President Trump’s order, which he said was being ‘proactive, not reactive.’

The actual facts—that the suspect was not an immigrant but a French-Canadian college student from Quebec—show the danger of sustained levels of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding immigration. This rhetoric is particularly dangerous in terms of describing Muslim immigration in the West, which has been conflated with the refugee crisis and exaggerated fears of terrorism. The motive of the Quebec attacker is still unknown, though the specific target—a mosque that has seen other incidents such as a pig’s head delivered to the building—is strongly suggestive.

Investigators will work to determine the motive for the Quebec attack, which is eerily similar to the 2015 hate-motivated domestic terror attack in a Charleston, South Carolina church. One thing that is already very clear is that the growing wave of violent rhetoric demonizing immigrants, refugees, and minorities is a serious social and political concern for the West. Online hate and propaganda is not restricted to the likes of the so-called Islamic State. The alt-right online presence—fueled by anger and exacerbated by bots—also has tragic real-life consequences.


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