Members of a mosque in Mississauga, Ont., are still coming to grips with what happened after a man wielding an axe and bear spray attacked congregants during an early-morning prayer, a volunteer at the mosque who witnessed the incident said Sunday.
"We're all trying to shake it off," said Noorani Sairally, who was one of the roughly 20 men praying in a room at the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre when the attack unfolded on Saturday morning.
"It's a scar that is going to take a long time before it goes away. But at the same time, we're not going to let this deter us from coming to the mosque."
When he heard screaming shortly after the prayer began, Sairally's mind automatically turned to other attacks on mosques: the 2017 shooting in Quebec City, and the ones in 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
But when he turned around, he said, he saw a man with a can of bear spray in one hand and an axe in another, who started spraying the congregants that were assembled in two rows.
Sairally said a few men in one row got sprayed, while some in the other row reacted quickly to subdue the man. Others ran outside because the spray made it "unbearable to breathe," he added.
"There was one young congregant who immediately noticed the axe in [the man's] hand and immediately knocked it off to the ground. And then that's when everybody kind of jumped on him to wrestle him to the ground," Sairally recalled.
"It was a very frightening, scary moment."
'Incredibly courageous and heroic'
Due to the remnants of the spray in the air, Sairally said the men dragged the attacker to another praying area and pinned him down until police arrived.
He alleged the man also had a bag containing "many" other weapons, including another axe, knives, other sharp objects and a bear spray canister.
Now, the mosque is turning its attention to security.
"We want to make sure that we have an internal security system put in place to make sure all the families that come in with the children and so forth feel safe and they can worship with peace and tranquillity," Sairally said.
In a phone interview, Ibrahim Hindy, imam at the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre who is currently in Saudi Arabia, called the men who subdued the attacker "incredibly courageous and heroic," saying he was thankful that nobody was seriously hurt — or worse.
Peel Regional Police said Mohammad Moiz Omar, 24, was arrested in connection to the incident, which is believed to be "hate-motivated," and appeared in court in Brampton, Ont., on Saturday.
Man facing several charges
Police said Omar is facing several charges including assault with a weapon, administering a noxious substance with intent to endanger life or cause bodily harm, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, uttering threats, carrying a concealed weapon and mischief to religious property.
Hindy said the mosque has asked police to increase their presence in the area in the coming days.
The mosque is also considering various ways to beef up its security to prevent similar incidents from happening, he said, especially with the holy month of Ramadan approaching in two weeks.
"We basically were under two lockdowns during Ramadan, so people are really excited for the first time to be back at the mosque. And now there's all this worry … about security," Hindy said.
"Do we have to take steps of locking the mosque after a certain time, which then leaves people outside of the mosque, which is kind of the same thing as a lockdown? Yeah, I mean, those are the conversations we're having right now."
Several politicians and community members have shared their support with the mosque and the Muslim community in the wake of the incident, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford.
On Sunday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh chimed in as well.
"Love, strength and solidarity to Muslims across Canada," Singh said in a tweet.
"As we hear about the chilling account of yet another Mosque and its congregants being subject to a violent attack — you are not alone."
Love, strength and solidarity to Muslims across Canada.<br><br>As we hear about the chilling account of yet another Mosque and its congregants being subject to a violent attack — you are not alone.<br><br>New Democrats will always stand with you.
The incident occurred less than a year after four members of a Muslim family, who were out for an evening stroll, were run down and killed by a vehicle in London, Ont., in what police have called an attack motivated by hate.
"Unfortunately, there's a target on our backs, and we have to be incredibly vigilant and always look out for signs of unusual behaviour," Hindy said.
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