Quebec mosque attack: Student Alexandre Bissonnette charged

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Alexandre BissonnetteImage source, Facebook
Image caption,
A picture circulated by local media of a man identified as Alexandre Bissonnette

Canadian police have charged a French-Canadian student over the fatal shooting of six Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Quebec.

Alexandre Bissonnette faces six counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder.

The 27-year-old briefly appeared in a Quebec City court over Sunday evening's attack, during evening prayers at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.

Vigils have been held across Canada to commemorate those killed and injured.

More than 50 people were at the mosque when the shooting erupted just before 20:00 on Sunday.

Nineteen people were wounded - all men - and of five people still in hospital, two were in a critical condition.

Image source, EVN
Image caption,
From left to right: Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti

Quebec provincial police have released the names of all six victims who were killed:

  • Father-of-three Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, a grocer and butcher
  • Khaled Belkacemi, 60, a professor in the food science department at Laval University
  • Father-of-three, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, an IT worker for the government
  • Aboubaker Thabti, 44, and two Guinean nationals, Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, and Ibrahima Barry, 39

Mr Bissonnette did not enter a plea as he appeared in court on Monday, wearing a white prison-issue jump suit, his hands and feet shackled.

The suspect was arrested in his car on a bridge leading from Quebec City to Ile d'Orleans, where he called police to say he wanted to co-operate with the authorities.

According to local media, Mr Bissonnette studied political science and anthropology at Laval University, whose campus is about 3km (two miles) away from the mosque.

Francois Deschamps, an official with an advocacy group, Welcome to Refugees, said the suspect was known for his far-right views.

Mr Bissonnette was "unfortunately known to many activists in Quebec for taking nationalist, pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist positions at Laval University and on social media," Mr Deschamps posted on the organisation's Facebook page.

A man of Moroccan heritage who was also arrested after the attack, Mohamed Khadir, is now being treated as a witness.

Media caption,

Quebec mosque attack: 'We cannot let the racists win'

At a vigil in Quebec - Jessica Murphy, BBC News

Thousands of people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, braved the cold at a vigil near the mosque to lay flowers and candles that flickered in the snow.

The streets were packed tight, and residents flowed by foot from the streets surrounding the mosque as police still blocked the roads to cars directly around the site of the attack.

Few carried signs but those that did called for unity among Quebecers. "Tous unis", French for "all together", was a popular phrase.

Ali Dahan, one of many who came to pay his respects, said the vigil sent a strong message against intolerance. "Such racist people can affect all possibility of progress," he said.

"But they lose because you see all the people out here today and they show their solidarity."

The vigil was a balm for the Muslim community, which has sometimes felt it bears the brunt of political rhetoric in the province.

Mr Trudeau and Mr Couillard both described the shooting as a terrorist attack.

Addressing the more than one million Muslims who live in Canada, Mr Trudeau said: "We are with you.

"Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours. Know that we value you."

Media caption,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "They were robbed of their lives in an act of brutal violence"

The shooting came amid heightened global tensions over Mr Trump's travel ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries.

On Tuesday the US administration pointed to the Quebec attack as further justification for the new president's policies.

"We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

"It's a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be pro-active, rather than reactive when it comes to our nation's safety and security."

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A Muslim leader in the city says he is not surprised by the attack

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.

Mohamed Labidi, vice-president of the Islamic centre, said the victims had been shot in the back.

"Security at our mosque was our major, major concern," Mr Labidi said tearfully. "But we were caught off-guard."

The predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec has welcomed thousands of immigrants from Arab countries and other nations.

But there has been a longstanding debate over the "reasonable accommodation" of immigrants and religious minorities.