The daughter of Khaled Belkacemi, one of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque attack, says her family moved to Canada because it was a place of “peace and stability chosen by my parents.”
In her victim statement, Megda Belkacemi, 29, the oldest of 17 children, recalls how her parents left a violent Algeria in search of a better life.
She explains her parents moved to Canada just over 30 years ago to pursue their graduate studies, where she and her brother, Amir, were born.
In 1992, the family chose to move back to Algeria for work; it was a time of extreme terrorism.
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“The climate was terrifying. The terrorists targeted the Algerian elite: most notably, journalists, universities, writers,” she said, adding that the rector of the university her parents worked at was assassinated the day her father had a meeting with him.
“He could have died that day. … The violence during this time forced my parents to make a choice for the safety of their children: quit their jobs and leave their families to return to Canada.”
She said her childhood was a peaceful one, growing up in Sainte-Geneviève, near Cap-Rouge.
Their lives were turned upside down on the evening of Jan. 29, 2017.
“I was in the middle of a project that I had to finish before the next day for work,” Belkacemi said.
“I called my parents to tell them that I wouldn’t be able to have dinner with them. Just after 8 p.m., I got a notification on my phone — an article from a newspaper saying there had been a shooting at the mosque.”
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She remembers calling her mother and quickly making her way to her family’s home.
“We got the worst news. My father was dead,” Belkacemi said, calling the entire scenario a “living nightmare.”
She recalls arriving at the funeral home in Montreal and seeing her father’s body.
“It was an image I will never be able to erase from my memory,” she said.
“There was no life in his body, there was a hole where his left eye should be because of the bullet in his head.”
Belkacemi said she prayed that there was some sort of administrative error and this was someone else lying in the coffin — but her prayers were never answered.
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His body was sent back to Algeria to be buried.
It’s now been over a year, but Belkacemi said she still can’t believe what happened — she still lives in agony and fear.
“How could a man who’s the same age as me, that grew up in the same city as me, who has a similar education to me and whom I could have known, … how could this person kill my father and five other fathers?” she asked.
“Alexandre Bissonnette was scared that his family would be attacked. Finally, it was my family that was attacked.”
The 28-year-old gunman pleaded guilty last month to six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder in the shooting.