It’s been two years since the deadly attack at a Quebec City mosque, but the terrifying memories remain vivid for those involved.
“There were many bullets, and time was like an eternity, even if it was only two minutes,” said Said Akjour, who was shot in the shoulder.
On Jan. 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire during evening prayers, killing six people and injuring many others.
Akjour says he remembers everything from that night, from crouching down in an alcove, watching others get shot, the feeling of the bullet piercing his left shoulder “like an arrow,” and the fear in the eyes of the responding police officers.
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He said he struggles with feelings of shame, helplessness and guilt.
“Why didn’t I do more?” Akjour asked.
“It was a feeling that was present. It was changing between gratitude at being alive, but at the same time, brothers were dead.”
A number of commemoration ceremonies are planned in Quebec City and Montreal to mark the tragic anniversary, including a vigil and speeches.
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Hope for the future
Those who go to the Islamic Cultural Centre say they remain hopeful that things will one day return to “normal.”
The bullet holes in the walls remain, and some are still fearful no matter how many new security measures are brought in.
Mohamed Labidi, a former president of the mosque, said hateful incidents directed at the mosque have declined significantly in the last year and the community continues to receive messages of solidarity from across the world.
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“It’s still a trauma for the community, and there are people who have been weakened,” he said.
“But there is a big dose of resilience in our lives, in our principles. It is a fundamental part of our religion.”
The mosque shooting claimed the lives of six men: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41; Khaled Belkacemi, 60; Aboubaker Thabti, 44; Azzeddine Soufiane, 57 and Ibrahima Barry, 39.
“Everything we do is to show that from this bad, we will germinate good,” said Labidi. “Not just for us but for all of society, for Quebec and for Canada.”
Last March, Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.
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He faces a potential prison term of 150 years before being eligible for parole, if a judge decides the six life sentences should be served consecutively.
His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 8.
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— with files from The Canadian Press