‘Our hero, Azzedine Soufiane’: Quebec City mosque shooting victim lauded at sentencing hearing

A march will be held Sunday in Quebec City to remember the victims of last week's deadly mosque attack, Sunday, February 5, 2017.
Azzedine Najd and Fadwa Achmaoui stand by a memorial near their mosque which was site of Sunday's deadly shooting, Tuesday, January 31, 2017 in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press

Long before the sentencing hearing for Alexandre Bissonnette began, witnesses of the Quebec City mosque shooting were already calling Azzedine Soufiane a hero.

The 57-year-old was one of six men killed in the attack that happened on Jan. 29, 2017. People who knew the father of three described him as a “community leader.”

The day after the shooting, imam Karim Elabed said, “Myself, when I arrived here eight years ago, (his shop) was the first place I learned about and pretty much all of Quebec’s Muslims did their groceries there.”

READ MORE: Quebec City shooting: Professor, local butcher among victims

During court procedures over the last couple of weeks, more was learned about the final moments of Soufiane’s life.

In surveillance video that has not been made public, the courtroom saw Soufiane lunge at the shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, in an attempt to stop the bloodshed and save his fellow worshippers. People in the courtroom saw Soufiane fall to the ground from gunshots before Bissonnette reloaded his 9-millimetre handgun and fired another round into his unmoving body.

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Witness Dr. Merouane Rachidi described the following details in a letter:

“He looked at me and said that it is just a single person, we shouldn’t be afraid. And it was with that sentence that still echoes in my ears that Azzedine, the hero, tried to encourage our brothers that even if it was an armed terrorist, for Azzedine, there was enough of us to neutralize him.”

READ MORE: Widow of Quebec mosque massacre victim calls for exemplary sentence

The crown wrapped up arguments on Thursday after more than 30 victims either testified in court or submitted letters to the judge. Bissonnette has pleaded guilty to six counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder and faces 150 years in prison.

In her testimony Thursday afternoon, Azzedine’s oldest daughter told the court: “Everyone knows that my father was killed cowardly in an inhumane and repugnant way. ”

She explained that her father was born in Morrocco, but all three of his children were born in Quebec.

“Quebec was above all the safest place we knew until the day this drama happened,” she said.

The idea of a shattered peace was a common theme among victim testimonies. Rachidi explained that he had a conversation with Azzedine Soufiane only six months before the shooting.

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“He told me, ‘We are in a good city. Quebec City is very quiet and we can walk in the street any hour of the night.’ Less than a year after this conversation he was found dead with five other people in peaceful Quebec City in the quiet Sainte-Foy neighbourhood.”

READ MORE: Daughter of Quebec mosque shooting victim says he moved family for ‘peace and stability’

Soufiane’s daughter recounted that the evening of the shooting she was having a deep conversation with her father about her future — a talk she would never be able to finish — when her father had to leave to close the halal butcher shop he owned and then go pray at the mosque.

He turned to his youngest daughter before leaving and said, “Bye bye, my princess.”

“Around 8 p.m., the telephone rang as it did every night,” his daughter recalled.

Her aunt called her mother every night at that time, but that evening the call was different. Her mother told her then there had been a shooting at the mosque.

“My sister and I went to search for my father at the grocery store … Once there, we saw the light was off. He had already gone to the mosque,” she said.

They tried to call him, but he didn’t reply. She explained he always left his cellphone in the entrance with the coats and shoes during prayers.

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In her letter, Soufiane’s widow, Najat Naanaa, described how her life has been destroyed and she still hasn’t been able to reconstruct it.

“I have no other choice than to accept this terrible injustice. However, my heart wants to scream at the world all the disgust and anger I feel for what was done to my husband.”

“It’s the day I lost everything,” she wrote. “This person was so much more than a husband: [he was] my intimate friend, my family, my half, my refuge. Today I am dead as well.”

Najat Naanaa also lost her sole source of income after she was forced to sell her husband’s store, called Essalam, which means “peace” in Arab.

“I couldn’t peacefully take care of it because the emotional burden linked to this place was too difficult. I felt the presence of my dead husband everywhere.”

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She continued, “His clients who liked him so much, mourned him too and cried over his death. I realized I wasn’t the only one who lost him.”

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