Jan. 29, 2017, was a normal day at the Soufiane household in Quebec City.
Azzeddine Soufiane left the home to close the family store, and then pray at the Quebec City mosque. “Bye-bye, my princess,” he said to his seven-year-old daughter as he walked out the door.
A few hours later, he was dead. Hailed as a hero, Soufiane was shot to death when he tried to stop Alexandre Bissonnette as he fired at terrified worshippers in the mosque.
On Thursday, his 14-year-old daughter spoke at Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing as people in the courtroom wept. One of the women widowed in the attack had to leave the courtroom, in tears.
“He was the best father, he was the best man,” said Zineb Soufiane, who broke down and sobbed several times during her 20 minutes on the witness stand. “He wanted to help everybody, Quebecers, whether they were Muslims or not.”
Security camera footage from the mosque, screened in the courtroom here last week, showed Soufiane trying to get others in the room to help him stop Bissonnette, then pressing ahead on his own.
The video showed him rushing toward Bissonnette near an archway in the mosque in an attempt to tackle him. He almost succeeded. But Bissonnette, pinned against a wall, shot Soufiane repeatedly. The gunman then retreated to the entryway, reloaded and returned to shoot him again.
Soufiane, a 57-year-old grocer and butcher, died instantly.
Zineb Soufiane spoke on behalf of her family — her mother, her 16-year-old brother and 7-year-old sister.
“Today, I’m proud, I’m proud of my father, I’m proud of what he did,” Soufiane told Justice François Huot, referring to her father’s attempt to stop the carnage that night. “My question is why? Why did this man attack innocent people? … What did (my father) do to be assassinated like that?”
She said returning to their Quebec City home after her father’s funeral in his native Morocco was painful.
“My father wasn’t there smiling, his arms open, he wasn’t there for us,” she said. “It was the moment we really told ourselves he’s really gone, we’ll never see him again.”
Huot told Soufiane her father was courageous.
“I didn’t have the privilege to know your father,” the judge said. “But it’s important that you know that your father — he proved it with his actions — was an exceptional man. Your father was a giant. Your father was a hero.”
“I can already see in you, we just saw, some of his strength,” Huot continued. “I’m convinced that from up above your father is watching over you, your sister, your brother, and your mother, as he was so courageously with his brothers on Jan. 29, 2017.”