Quebec City's Muslim community is in shock after someone burned down the car belonging to the head of a mosque targeted by an act of terror in January.
Police believe the fire was deliberately set and they are investigating.
The incident happened at around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2017. This was about 36 hours after Quebec City announced it would sell some land to the mosque, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, to create the region's first Muslim-only cemetery.
The centre garnered international headlines over its efforts to find a spot for a cemetery in the wake of a mass shooting on Jan. 29, 2017, when a man killed six men who were praying in the mosque and wounded more than a dozen others. The shooting is considered to be one of the worst acts of terror on Canadian soil.
Police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, in connection with the shootings. He has described himself on social media as a fan of the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Imam Hassan Guillet, who had eulogized some victims of the January terror attack, expressed his sadness and anger.
“These people in Quebec City, they keep on being hit, stroke after stroke, story after story. Poor them," he told National Observer in a phone interview. "They have the right to live peaceful, honest and calm lives like every one else."
Fire spread from car to hedge on front lawn
The car that was set on fire belonged to the mosque's president, Mohamed Labidi. It was parked in front of his home, when his wife heard an explosion. The fire spread to the hedge on his front yard.
"It is not about simple extremist demonstrations against immigration anymore. Extremist acts are now targeting our lives, us, Quebec and Canadian citizens of Muslim faith as well as personal and religious goods, even though we only aspire to live together calmly in this beautiful city of Quebec City,” the mosque said in a statement released on Wednesday.
The mosque also said that it found feces had been thrown at its door a few days after the fire.
Police say they don't have any suspects yet and the event isn't even categorized as a hate crime right now since they don't know what motivated the attack.
“It’s an investigation we take seriously. We are worried about this situation. We want to find the reasons that led to this criminal act,” said Quebec City police spokesman Jean-François Vézina at a news conference on Wednesday.
He also explained the event was kept secret for three weeks at the request of the victim, Mr. Labidi, and also for strategic reasons. He added there had been “no threats to (their) knowledge except for hate messages” left on the voicemails of the CCIQ or other mosques in the region.
Imam Guillet added that he was disappointed about the ongoing situation.
“Some people have an agenda of hatred, of xenophobia and islamophobia and they think everything is allowed... (These people) have the right to hate me, to not love me, to tell me their opinion that I’m terrible but (they) don’t have the right to threaten me and to burn my car. We’re off limits here.”
He said politicians have to stop “playing with fire” and have to condemn extreme right groups in Quebec City.
Régis Labeaume in 'shock'
Régis Labeaume, mayor of Quebec City, expressed his “disappointment” and “shock” at a separate news conference in Quebec City, also on Wednesday.
“Hate crimes are adding up. This is worrying us a lot, a lot, a lot,” Labeaume said, “Because on January 29, it was an isolated act, but here you have a new act. Although, we have to be careful because the investigation is still ongoing. But seen like this, it’s extremely worrying.”
He asked for citizens of Quebec City to remain united.
“You are our neighbours and we love you,” he said to the Muslim community of his city.
Labeaume announced the new deal to create a cemetery for the Muslim community a few weeks after residents in a nearby municipality, Saint-Apollinaire, voted against allowing land owned by a funeral home to be used for Muslim burials.
In the meantime, the Islamic Cultural Centre has asked provincial and federal politicians to look into extremism in their city.
“We urge the public and the politicians of Quebec and Canada to give diligent and particular attention to the rise of extreme right in Quebec City,” the mosque said in its statement.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 4:10 p.m. on Aug. 30, 2017 with new comments from Hassan Guillet.