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Student charged with murder in Canada mosque slayings

AFP
Published : Feb 1, 2017, 6:30 am IST
Updated : Feb 1, 2017, 6:34 am IST

Attack by Bissonnette sent terrified worshippers fleeing barefoot in the snow.

Alexandre Bissonnette
 Alexandre Bissonnette

Quebec city: A Canadian political science student known to have nationalist sympathies was on Monday charged with six counts of murder over a shooting spree at a Quebec mosque — one of the worst attacks ever to target Muslims in a western country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as a “terrorist attack” Sunday night’s assault on the Islamic Cultural Center in a busy district of Quebec City, which sent terrified worshippers fleeing barefoot in the snow.

Eight people were wounded in the crossfire, and five of them remained in a critical condition in a hospital on Monday.

Alexandre Bissonnette, who made a brief court appearance after surrendering to authorities, was charged with six counts of premeditated murder and five of attempted murder, police said. More indictments are expected later, police added.

“There are search warrants underway,” a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. “We hope to obtain the evidence to reach the point where we will be able to lay terrorism and national security charges,” she said. So far, authorities have shed no light on what may have prompted the attack.

Local media said Bissonnette is a Quebec nationalist and anti-feminist who recently “liked” US President Donald Trump’s page on Facebook. He also has reportedly expressed support for French far-right politician Marine Le Pen.

Both police and witnesses had initially described two masked men opening fire inside the mosque, where worshippers were gathered for evening prayer. But authorities said on Monday that a second person detained had only been questioned as a witness.

Explaining how one suspect was eventually let go, the RCMP said: “This morning and last evening we had reason to believe that two individuals should be arrested, that two people had participated.” After investigating, they said: “We reached the conclusion that we should focus on one single suspect. And there was no reason to believe that the other individual had participated.”

Some 50 people were in the mosque at the time of the attack. The dead are all dual Canadian nationals: one Moroccan, two Algerians, one Tunisian and two Guineans. Quebec has traditionally attracted Muslim immigrants from North Africa.

Bissonnette, a student at Laval University, surrendered 20 km outside the city.  “It is a domestic investigation at this time,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Martin Plante said. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the nation’s security threat level remained at medium — requiring security forces to be on guard but having no specific information about an imminent threat. It was raised to this level in October 2014 after a lone gunman attacked parliament. The police are continuing to collect evidence in a bid to “identify exactly who is involved and what was their motivation,” Mr Goodale said.

Authorities, he added, don’t have “sufficient, facts yet to be able to draw conclusions.” The Quebec mosque had already been the target of hate: a pig’s head was left on the doorstep last June during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan Other mosques in Canada have been targeted with anti-Muslim graffiti in recent months. Police stationed near the mosque said they had feared this type of attack “because it’s happening all over the world.”

The shooting came as Canada vowed to open its arms to Muslim refugees after Mr Trump’s controversial immigration ban prompted travel chaos and outrage around the world.

“Last night’s horrible crime against the Muslim community was an act of terror committed against Canada and against all Canadians,” Mr Trudeau said. “Canadians will not be intimidated,” he added. “We will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion.”   

Tags: justin trudeau, terrorist attack, donald trump
Location: Canada, Québec, Québec