Alexandre Bissonnette has been accused of killing six people and wounding eight others in a “barbaric” massacre Sunday night at a Quebec City mosque, TVA News reports.
The 27-year-old entered the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec and opened fire with a rifle, shooting members of the mosque as they prayed, police and witnesses say.
He is in police custody and was being questioned Monday morning. He has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder, the Toronto Star reports.
Friends and those who knew him online said he had extreme political beliefs, but was not known to be violent. Eric Debroise said he called police after the shooting and told them Bissonnette is “very right and (an) ultra nationalist white supremacist,” the French-language newspaper Le Journal de Quebec reports. “He really liked Trump and had a permanent discontent with the left.”
Debroise said Bissonnette had cut ties with many friends recently, the newspaper reports. Bissonnette’s family told the newspaper they believe he fell under the influence of someone.
A second man, Mohamed el Khadir, a Moroccan immigrant also called Mohamed Belkhadir, was previously identified by authorities as a suspect. He was taken into custody near the mosque and questioned, but Quebec Provincial Police said in a tweet Monday afternoon that he is no longer considered to be a suspect. He is now being called a witness.
Police and politicians are calling the shooting a terrorist attack, La Presse reports.
The victims range in age from 39 to 70, police said. They area ll men. Five of the victims — Azzedine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hasssen, Boubaker Thabti and Ahmed Youness — have been identified.
A friend told the Montreal Gazette that Soufiane was a father of three young children and was well known in the community.
“We’ve just lost someone who was very, very nice, a good person … such a loss, someone who was so welcoming, who helped everybody,” Ali Miladi told the newspaper.
Thabti was a father of two. Belkacemi was an agricultural professor at Universite Laval, the same school where Bissonnette has been a student. Hassen worked in information technology and Youness was a student at Laval.
“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui, told reporters. He was not at the mosque at the time of the shooting, but rushed to the scene after calls from members of the community.
Confusion over the number of shooters, based on witness statements and the fact two men were taken into police custody, along with speculation about the motive’s behind the shooting, spread quickly on social media in the hours after the attack. Adding to the disorder were hoaxes, including a viral tweet from a fake Reuters news account that named two “white supremacists” as the attackers, and another hoax, started at Donald Trump forums on Reddit, that claimed the gunmen were recent refugees from Syria.
Police have not yet said why the attack occurred.
The terror case is being led by the Quebec Provincial Police, along with Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Quebec City Police.
Bissonnette is expected to appear in court Monday.
Here’s what you need to know about the suspect and the attack:
1. Bissonnette Has Right-Wing, Pro-Israel, Pro-Trump & Anti-Immigration Beliefs, a Former Classmate Says
Little was known about Alexandre Bissonnette as of Monday morning, as police were still working to determine what led to the shooting. But details from those who knew him and information from his social media pages began to be uncovered by the afternoon.
According to his Facebook page, Bissonnette is from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, about 15 minutes from the mosque. He recently moved to an apartment in Quebec City near the mosque, a neighbor told the CBC. But he was seen often at his parent’s home, she said.
Bissonnette has a twin brother, a high school classmate told Le Journal de Quebec.
“Apart from his twin brother, I did not see him with other people,” said Mikael Labrecque Berger, in French. He said Bissonnette was an “unpopular nerd,” and was not always taken seriously by classmates.
“He replied to insults, but never with physical violence,” Labrecque Berger said, adding that he and his twin brother didn’t integrate with other students. They were usually only seen together, he said.
The former classmate, who had only seen him once since high school, said he didn’t know about any politics or beliefs that could have sparked the shooting.
But another former classmate, Jean-Michel Allard-Prus, who studied politics with him, at Université Laval and has kept in touch with him, told Le Journal de Quebec that Bissonnette, “has right-wing political ideas, pro-Israel, anti-immigration. I had many debates with him about Trump. He was obviously pro-Trump.”
And a third university classmate, Vincent Boissoneault, who grew up with Bissonnette, was friends with him on Facebook, told the Globe and Mail, “I can tell you he was certainly no Muslim convert. I wrote him off as a xenophobe. I didn’t even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement.”
Acquaintances said he became interested in the far right movement when Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front in France, spoke in Quebec City in March 2016, the Globe and Mail reports. He began speaking out about politics on Facebook and became estranged from some friends, according to the newspaper.
Bissonnette is studying anthropology and political science at Université Laval in Quebec City, and has been a student there since 2012.
Allard-Prus said Bissonnette was shy and timid, and didn’t talk to many other people.
But he was active on social media and expressed his political views there, according to a local pro-refugees group. His Facebook page has been deleted in the hours after he was named as a suspect in the attack.
The “Welcome to Refugees – Quebec City” group posted on Facebook that it was also aware of him prior to the shooting, saying he is “unfortunately known to several activists in Quebec City for his pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist identity positions at Université Laval and on social networks.”
Francois Deschamps, a committee member for the group, told La Presse he jumped when he saw a photo of Bissonnette.
“We see a lot of what extreme right-wing people do and say,” Deschamps told the newspaper. He said Bissonnette made statements on their page, “acting like a troll.”
Along with anti-immigrant and other right-wing beliefs, he also made anti-women’s rights remarks, Deschamps said.
His Facebook page reveals few details about his reasoning for the shooting, and appears similar to other 20-something college students. His last public post, on January 20, was a photo of a dog wearing a Dominos pizza delivery outfit, with the caption, “I want one! #fridayfeeling.”
Other photos show him with family, with friends at parties and in a Halloween costume, as the killer from the movie “Scream.”
He has also posted recently about discoveries on Pluto, camping and wanting to travel one day to Torngat Mountains National Park. He also shared a video last year about a brewery owned by members of the band Megadeth.
In November 2015, he posted a photo of medals he said belong to his grandfather.
“For remembrance day coming up a picture of my grandfathers medals! From left to right is the 1939-1945 star, the france and germany star, the defence medal, the canadian VOLUNTEER medal and the war medal 1939-1945, we changed the ribbons and cleaned them, nice job,” he wrote.
Another photo showed Bissonnette as a child. He was a former Royal Canadian Army Cadet.
Bissonnette likes the Facebook pages of U.S. President Donald Trump and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, but he does not express support for them elsewhere on his page. Other likes include the Israel Defense Forces, United With Israel and Parti Québécois of Université Laval.
He also likes U.S. Senator John McCain, a moderate Republican who has opposed Trump on some issues, President George W. Bush, the Canadian New Democratic Party and late Canadian politician Jack Layton, who was a leader of the left-wing NDP, so the likes do not shed much light on Bissonnette’s beliefs.
Bissonnette had no criminal record, but did have infractions in recent years for not wearing a seatbelt, speeding and illegal parking.
He was known to be a hunter and gun owner, Le Journal de Quebec reports.
2. Just 17 Minutes After the Shooting, Bissonnette Called 911 to Say He Felt Guilty About What He’d Done
About 17 minutes after the first call of shots fired at the mosque, Alexandre Bissonnette, called 911 to police he felt guilty about what he had done, La Presse reports.
Bissonnette, a 27-year-old Quebec native, told the 911 dispatcher he was going to shoot himself. About 8:45 p.m., he told police he wanted to be arrested.
“He was armed and spoke to us about his acts,” Quebec City Police Inspector Denis Turcotte told the Montreal Gazette. “He seemed to want to co-operate. … The suspect said he was waiting for the police to arrive.”
Police have not yet released details about the suspect’s motive for the shooting. He was interrogated after being taken into custody and police are still investigating what led to the attack.
A source told Radio-Canada that Bissonnette is a student at Université Laval, a French-language, public college in Quebec City. There are about 28,500 undergraduate students and 8,500 graduate students attending the school.
“We are profoundly disturbed by these terrorist acts,” Denis Brière, Laval’s rector, told the Globe and Mail. “I am without words in the face of these cruel events. These are heinous and inhuman acts. Terrorist attacks that we condemn strongly at Laval University. These are acts that should not happen anywhere, ever.”
Mohamed Khadir, the second man taken into custody at the scene, is also a student at the university. It is not known if he knew Bissonnette.
He told TVA News he was outside when the shooting happened, and might have been mistaken for a suspect because he ran from police. Khadir was providing first aid to victims and said he thought an officer carrying a rifle was the gunman returning to shoot again. He ran out of fear, and was taken into custody by the officer.
He said he was treated well by police and was relieved when they told him he was not a suspect.
Bissonnette was not known to police prior to the shooting and does not have a criminal record, authorities said. Searches were being conducted Monday at locations believed to be connected to Bissonnette, including his parent’s home
3. Bissonnette Was Taken Into Custody About 14 Miles From the Mosque on a Bridge Over the St. Lawrence River
After calling 911, the suspected shooter parked his car, a Mitsubishi, on the Island of Orleans bridge, and officers from the Tactical Intervention Group arrived and took him into custody, the newspaper reports.
A handgun and two rifles that looked like AK-47s were found in his car, according to La Presse.
The bridge remained closed early Monday morning, the newspaper said. Authorities feared the Mitsubishi may have been rigged with explosives.
The other man considered to be a suspect, and now called a witness, Mohamed Khadir, was arrested close to the mosque, authorities said. He was later released without charges.
Police do not believe there were any other shooters, but are still investigating.
“The investigation has not ended,” Quebec City Police spokesman Étienne Doyon, told the Toronto Star. “We will be trying to verify if there is a third or fourth or any other person involved. We’re not ruling out that there may be other suspects.”
4. The Gunman Wore a Mask & Shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ During the Shooting, a Witness Says
Witnesses told Reuters that two to three gunmen opened fire on worshippers inside the mosque Sunday night.
But police now say Bissonnette was the lone shooter. Eyewitness accounts are often unreliable during chaotic shooting situations, and frequently reports of multiple shooters turn out to be false.
Along with the six killed and eight injured, at least 39 other people survived the attack, police said.
A witness who spoke with Radio-Canada reported there were multiple shooters, though police have now said it was only one, “ the CBC reports.
“It seemed to me that they had a Quebecois accent. They started to fire, and (while) they shot they yelled, ‘Allahu akbar!’ The bullets hit people that were praying. People who were praying lost their lives. A bullet passed right over my head,” said the witness, who asked not to be named. “There were even kids. There was even a three-year-old who was with his father.”
It has not been confirmed by police that the shooter said “Allahu akbar,” an Islamic phrase that means “God is great” and is often associated with terrorist attacks. It is also not clear that if it was said, if it was used mockingly.
The mosque’s president said there can be up to 100 in attendance on a Sunday night. According to La Presse, children would have been in the basement, while the men would be on the ground floor and women on the second floor.
The shooter was armed with an “AK-47,” Le Soleil reports.
Hamid Nadji, who spoke to a friend who was inside the mosque, told the Montreal Gazette the scene was a “carnage.”
Nadji told the newspaper, “From what we heard over the phone, one person had a weapon discharged in his face because he had wanted to jump on the man to stop him. And the three others died because they wanted to catch the man.”
The gunman left the mosque to reload and came back. He then ran out of bullets a second time, reloaded and returned for a third round of shooting, Nadji told the Gazette.
After a previous hate crime incident at the mosque, also called Grande Mosque de Québec, its leaders said they had several CCTV cameras on the building. It is not clear if the video shows the shooting or the suspects.
The mosque has about 5,000 members and is one of six in the Quebec City region, the Montreal Gazette reports.
In the live video, one of the men recording can be heard saying in Arabic, “he’s escaped. He was on his feet, he’s escaped,” the Huffington Post reports.
A live video posted to Facebook by the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec showed a heavy police presence at the scene.
In the live video, one of the men recording can be heard saying in Arabic, “he’s escaped. He was on his feet, he’s escaped,” the Huffington Post reports.
According to the Huffington Post, one of the bystanders also be heard saying in Arabic, “This is the result of Trump.”
5. The Same Mosque Was the Target of a Hate Crime Last June, When a Gift-Wrapped Pig’s Head Was Left Outside
In June 2016, a pig’s head was left outside the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec, the same mosque where the shooting occurred Sunday, along with the note “Bon appétit,” the CBC reported at the time.
The pig’s head was left during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The consumption of pork is banned by the Qu’ran.
No one was ever arrested in that incident.
Mohamed Yangui, the mosque’s president, referenced the incident after the shooting.
In an interview with Le Soleil , he said police told them it was an “isolated act,” at the time, but “today we have deaths.” He said they had not received threats in recent days.
An Islamophobic letter entitled, “What is the most serious: a pig’s head or a genocide,” was distributed in the area around the mosque about three weeks after the pig’s head was found, the Montreal Gazette reports.
In 2015, a video threatening Quebec Muslims surfaced online, the Montreal Gazette reported.
The video, posted to Youtube in November 2015, showed a man in a Joker mask expressing frustration with Muslims in Quebec and saying if the government won’t do anything about them, he would, the newspaper reported. The man in the video also said he had a group of people with him who would help carry out the threat.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement saying he was filled with “shock, anger and sadness” after the shooting Sunday night:
It was with tremendous shock, sadness and anger that I heard of this evening’s tragic and fatal shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec located in the Ste-Foy neighbourhood of the city of Québec. We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who have died, and we wish a speedy recovery to those who have been injured. While authorities are still investigating and details continue to be confirmed, it is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear. Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country. Canadian law enforcement agencies will protect the rights of all Canadians, and will make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators of this act and all acts of intolerance. Tonight, we grieve with the people of Ste-Foy and all Canadians.
Other politicians joined Trudeau in expressing support for the Muslim community.
“We know little at the moment, but one or two people have assumed the right to kill our fellow Muslim Québec citizens. When intolerance goes from debate to murder, solidarity is essential,” local politician Manon Massé told The Guardian.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said in a statement the city is “in shock” following the shooting.
“My first thoughts go to the victims and their affected families as they gathered for prayer,” Labeaume said. “Quebec City is an open city where everyone must be able to live together in safety and respect. I invite all the people to unite and to be in solidarity. Québec is strong, Québec is proud, Québec is open to the world.”
Philippe Couillard, the Premier of Quebec, said on Twitter that the government is mobilized to protect people in the city after the shooting.
He also said, in French, “Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence. Our solidarity is with victims, the injured and their families.”
An anti-Islamophobia group based in Quebec City said it has been urging authorities for years to address the anti-Muslim issue in the region, but nothing was done. It said the attack was preventable.
Francis Deschamps, an organizer of a refugee support-group in Quebec City told the Associated Press he is “not very surprised” about the shooting, saying he has personally received death threats after starting a refugee support group on Facebook.
He said right-wing groups are “very organized” in Quebec City and distribute fliers at the university and plaster stickers around the region.
Another group, the Islamic Centre of Quebec, told the Gazette, “This attack on a sanctuary where innocent people, including children, gather has shaken us deeply. It runs against the core values we hold as Canadians.”
And urged “the Muslim community to remain calm, united and know that the Canadian people stand with us in solidarity. We have faith that the great people of this country will stand and work together during this difficult time.”
Yangui, the mosque’s leader, said he was stunned by the attack.
“We have a very good relationship with the neighbors, with the community,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “There’s mutual respect – and now today we have this dramatic event.”
Ben Abdallah, who often prays at the mosque but was not there during the shooting, told the newspaper “we never thought” such a “catastrophic” incident would happen there.
“But given the hateful speeches all around the planet, it can happen,” he said.
The shooting comes on the same day as thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the United States to fight back against an order banning refugees and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Trudeau has put out messages supporting Muslim immigrants and has said his country would welcome those turned away by the U.S.
Canada did not denounce Trump’s order, the CBC reported on Sunday, prior to the shooting.
“Every country has the right to determine their policies. I can only tell you that we will continue our long-standing tradition of being open to those who seek sanctuary,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told the CBC.
Hussen did say that Canada would not be raising the number of refugees it will accept in 2017, despite speculation after Trudeau’s tweet that it would bring in more people, according to the CBC. Canada plans to bring in about 25,000 refugees this year.