Canada mosque shooting suspect: Who is Alexandre Bissonnette?

Alexandre Bissonnette was charged on Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder over the shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque.

Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, is seen in a Facebook posting. Facebook / Handout via Reuters
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QUEBEC CITY // The French Canadian university student charged with killing six Muslim men during evening prayers at a mosque was known as an online troll with far-right, nationalist views.

Alexandre Bissonnette was charged on Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder over the shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque — an act the Canadian prime minister labelled an act of terrorism against Muslims.

In a brief court appearance, 27-year-old Bissonnette — his hands and feet shacked and wearing a white prisoner’s jumpsuit — stared at the floor and said nothing.

On social media, however, his support for extreme right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen, for US president Donald Trump and his anti -feminist views were well-known to groups which monitor extremist views in Quebec.

A student of anthropology and political science at Laval University in Quebec City, Bissonnette had also expressed support on his Facebook profile for “Génération Nationale,” a group whose manifesto includes the rejection of “multiculturalism”. Apart from a few traffic tickets, he was unknown to the police.

The grandson of a decorated Second World War veteran, Bissonnette grew up in a quiet street in the Cap-Rouge suburb of Quebc city and had his own apartment a few kilometres away — and only one kilometre from the mosque which was the scene of the mass shooting. A Facebook photo shows him as a boy, in the army cadets, a military leadership programme — but without military training — for Canadian youth. His online profile reveals little interest in extremist politics until last March when Ms Le Pen visited Quebec. Thereafter, he became very active online.

Childhood friend Vincent Boissoneault, also now studying at Laval, said they frequently clashed over politics, especially when Bissonnette attacked refugees.

“I wrote him off as a xenophobe,” said Mr Boissoneault. “I didn’t even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement. It never occurred to me he might be violent.”

Francois Deschamps, an employment counsellor who also runs a refugee support group said he immediately recognised Bissonnette from his online appearances.

“He was someone who made frequent extreme comments denigrating refugees and feminism. It wasn’t outright hate, rather part of this new nationalist conservative identity movement that is more intolerant than hateful,” he said.

Outside university, Bissonnette worked at a call centre Quebec’s blood donation agency.

Neighbours at his apartment complex said they saw little of him, but sometimes heard loud banging and shouting from his apartment. Acquaintances from Bissonnette’s high school years said he was introverted, socially awkward and frequently bullied because he was slightly-built and wore unfashionable clothing.

He was arrested in his car on after he called 911 to say he wanted to cooperate with police. Authorities, who initially named two suspects, said the other man taken into custody was a witness to the attack and was released. Officials are still investigating whether others were involved.

Canada is generally welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but the French-speaking province of Quebec has had a long-simmering debate about race and religious accommodation. The previous separatist government of the province called for a ban on ostentatious religious symbols, such as the hijab, in public institutions.

Though the police have given no motive for the attack, in parliament, prime minister Justin Trudeau said the victims were targeted simply because of their religion. Speaking directly to the one million-plus Muslims living in Canada, he said, “We are with you. Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours.”

The mosque has been a target of hate crimes in the past, including last summer when a pig’s head was left on its doorstep during Ramadan.

The United Arab Emirates has condemned the terrorist attack and affirmed its rejection of violence and terrorism in all its forms, and tressed the need to rally international efforts to eradicate the scourge of terrorism from its root. The statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, t offered condolences to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Canada and wished the injured a speedy recovery.



* Associated Press