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Quebec City mosque shooting: Attacker charged with six counts of murder

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP has not ruled out terrorism-related charges, though that decision will be taken as the investigation progresses.

world Updated: Jan 31, 2017 11:13 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Quebec mosque attack

Alexandre Bissonnette, the suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, is seen in a Facebook posting. (REUTERS)

A 27-year-old man, accused of an attack on a mosque in Quebec City on Sunday that claimed six lives, has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Alexandre Bissonnette, a student at the social sciences department of Laval University in Quebec City, made an appearance in a city court on Monday evening and is next scheduled for a hearing on February 21. He has been charged with six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP has not ruled out terrorism-related charges, though that decision will be taken as the investigation progresses.

The six victims of the massacre have been identified as Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane.

While police have yet to lay down terrorism-related charges against Bissonnette, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once again reiterated that his government viewed the attack as a “despicable act of terror.”

Speaking at a special session of the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday afternoon, Trudeau made his government’s position on the incident evident. “This was a group of innocents targeted for practising their faith. Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks as his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau (R) and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (L) look on as they attend a vigil held in honour of the victims of a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City, Quebec January 30, 2017. (Reuters)

Trudeau, along with the leaders of opposition parties, attended a vigil on Monday evening in Quebec City in memory of the victims of the rampage on Sunday night during which six congregants at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec or Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec were gunned down.

“We will get to the bottom of this. Such senseless violence has no place in Canadian society,” Trudeau said.

The Canadian government has promised increased vigilance and security around places of worship, particularly mosques in the country, in the aftermath of the tragedy.

In his address, Trudeau spoke to the country’s nearly one million Muslims, as he said, “Know that we value you, you enrich our shared country in immeasurable ways. You’re home.”

Vigils across Canada

Even as thousands gathered in Quebec City on Monday evening in memory of the victims, similar vigils took place across Canada.

While Bissonnette hadn’t been on the radar of law enforcement agencies, a local group Welcome to Refugees – Quebec City stated it had been aware of his extreme stands.

“It is with pain and anger that we learn the identity of the terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette, unfortunately known to several activists in Quebec City for his identity positions,” it noted.

People leave flowers and candles under the police tape surrounding the perimeter of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, following a vigil held on honour of the victims of a shooting in the mosque in Quebec City, Quebec January 30, 2017. (Reuters)

He was apparently pro-Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French right-wing party National Front, and “anti-feminists”. Le Pen is among those whose pages Bissonnette liked on Facebook (his account has been deactivated). He also liked US President Donald Trump, the separatist Parti Quebecois, and also the left-of-centre New Democratic Party or NDP.

The Parti Quebecois, which ran the provincial government between 2012 and 2014, had introduced a Charter of Values for Quebec which included a bar on government employees wearing visible religious attire like the niqab or the turban.

The shootings came hours after Trudeau welcomed immigrants to Canada, striking a sharp contrast with Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries.

Trump suspended the arrival of refugees to the US for at least 120 days, with those from Syria barred indefinitely. He also blocked entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for the next three months.