Quebec mosque rampage: University student charged

A French-Canadian university student was the sole suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque and was charged with the premeditated murder of six people.VIDEO: REUTERS
Bissonnette was well known to people who monitor far-right groups in Quebec.
Bissonnette was well known to people who monitor far-right groups in Quebec.
(From left) Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Mr Mohamed Labidi and Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume at a press conference held on Monday after the mosque shooting.
(From left) Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Mr Mohamed Labidi and Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume at a press conference held on Monday after the mosque shooting.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He is accused of murder, and could also face terrorism charges

MONTREAL • A Canadian university student has been charged following an assault on a Quebec City mosque that left six people dead and five others seriously injured, in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country's history.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was charged on Monday with six counts of premeditated murder and five counts of attempted murder, said Mr Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesman for the provincial government.

Handcuffed, his feet manacled and wearing a white prison jumpsuit, Bissonnette reportedly looked at the floor throughout the court hearing, aside from casting a brief glance at his lawyer.

No charge was read in court and Bissonnette did not enter a plea. He is set to appear again on Feb 21.

Prosecutor Thomas Jacques indicated that terrorist charges could be added later to the murder and attempted murder charges.

Mr Mohamed Belkhadir, who police initially suspected of working with Bissonnette, was arrested while providing aid to the victims, he told La Presse newspaper in an interview. He was released.

WIDESPREAD GRIEF

I can't express the grief that has touched our community. This tragedy occurred in a place of prayer, with people who were praying.

MR MOHAMED LABIDI, a spokesman for the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre.

Bissonnette was a student in the faculty of social sciences at Laval University, the school said in a statement posted on its website.

He has been expelled from Laval pending the conclusion of the judicial process, effective immediately.

Laval, which has a large community of international students, many from French-speaking Africa and the Maghreb, is located near the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, where Bissonnette is alleged to have opened fire on congregants finishing their prayers shortly before 8pm on Sunday.

Bissonnette was well known to people who monitor far-right groups in Quebec, where he frequently commented on sites speaking about immigration and Islam. He was a particularly vocal supporter of Ms Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far right, when she visited the city last year.

"The minute I saw his picture this morning, I recognised him," said Mr Francois Deschamps, a job counsellor who also runs an online group called Bienvenue aux Refugies to help refugees. He said he had watched Bissonnette's anti-Muslim postings - done in his real name - for about a year. "He was not a leader and was not affiliated with the groups we know."

Bissonnette and his family live in Cap Rouge, a western suburb of Quebec City that lies in the shadow of a railroad trestle. Neighbours said there was nothing remarkable about the quiet young man.

"We knew the family for 30 years," said Mr Alain Dufour, a neighbour. He said Bissonnette and his brother were "normal kids, nothing indicating bizarre behaviour".

The six male victims in the shooting spree ranged in age from 39 to 60. Two of them were Guinea nationals.

"I can't express the grief that has touched our community," Mr Mohamed Labidi, a spokesman for the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, told reporters. "This tragedy occurred in a place of prayer, with people who were praying."

Bissonnette fled the scene in his car and was arrested about 20km from the mosque after calling 911 and discussing the attack, Mr Andre Goulet, an investigator with the provincial police force, told reporters in Quebec City.

Bissonnette was not known to the law enforcement authorities, officials said earlier on Monday, without identifying him at the time.

The killings come at a sensitive time for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose open-door immigration policies stand in contrast to those of the US.

Canada's House of Commons resumed sitting on Monday after a six-week break, and Mr Trudeau is likely to face questions from Conservative lawmakers, some of whom favour a more Trump-like approach.

Mr Trump called Mr Trudeau on Monday to express his condolences to him and to the people of Canada following the shooting, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Quebec mosque rampage: University student charged'. Print Edition | Subscribe