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Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, speaks to reporters as Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, right, looks on at a news conference about the mosque shootings, Monday, January 30, 2017 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
QUEBEC — The Quebec mosque where six people were killed during evening prayers had been targeted previously, and its leaders say security had been "a major, major concern" prior to Sunday's attack.
In June, a pig's head was left at the entrance of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec during Ramadan. It had been wrapped in transparent plastic tied with blue and white ribbons with a note reading, "Bonne appetit (sic)."
"Security at our mosque was our major, major concern," Mohamed Labidi, the mosque's vice-president, said Monday. "But we were caught off guard."
Gilles Routhier, dean of theology and religious studies at the University of Laval, said the centre is a vital part of a Muslim community that includes immigrants, Syrian refugees and foreign students from north Africa.
"It is probably the most important place to meet for them," he said.
Majdi Dridi of the Muslim Association of Canada attends the mosque regularly, and said dozens of people flock there for prayers, with upwards of 250 people on Friday nights.
He said the centre opened in about 2008.
On its website, the centre describes its mission as helping to "develop the tools that would allow a better spiritual, social and economic flourishing of the Muslim community" while facilitating their integration into Quebec society. It says it hopes to bring Muslims together and "offer them an Islamic spiritual and socio-cultural life in harmony with the Quebec and Canadian society to which they belong."
The centre, one of the biggest mosques in the area, offers a range of activities for families and children, including Arabic lessons and instruction in the Koran and cultural practices.
Dridi, who lives near the centre, said he knew at least two of the men who were killed in the shooting. He did not want to reveal their names, but said he worked with one of them, a father of three young girls.
"I live not far from the mosque, so I go and pray there almost every evening so it's a very important part of our community," said Dridi.
"All the people I talk to, they do not understand why this happened. The Muslim communities here in Quebec, we have never had terrorism or people who were extremists or fanatics. Most of the people work for companies or the government or go to university. We have never had any problems with any other communities, so it's a big shock."
— By Alison Auld in Halifax.
The Canadian Press