The university student accused of murdering six people at a Quebec City mosque is a fan of Katy Perry, President Donald Trump and French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, posted anti-feminist comments on social media and dressed as the Grim Reaper for Halloween.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, made a brief court appearance late Monday but did not enter a plea to six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder. No terrorism charges were filed, but Canadian prosecutor Thomas Jacques said the investigation is continuing and that more charges are possible.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday that government human services departments are aiding families of the victims. He also said it would be a mistake to believe that racism and Islamophobia doesn’t exist in Quebec, adding that those beliefs are held by a small minority.
“Quebequers are a caring, loving people,” Couillard said. “When we talk about issues like how we live together and immigration, I know we will talk about positive values first. Inclusion, brotherhood.”
Bissonette studied social sciences at Université Laval, not far from the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec where he conducted his bloody shooting spree Sunday during evening prayers. His victims included a butcher, a pharmacist and a professor. Some were African immigrants, some were fathers.
The Canadian refugee advocacy group Welcome to Refugees said on its Facebook page that Bissonette was known for his anti-feminist positions on social media. Posts on Bissonette’s Facebook page, no longer active, showed he “liked” Trump and Le Pen, donned the Grim Reaper costume in October and was a fan of Perry and Megadeth.
“He was not overtly racist or Islamophobic, but he had borderline misogynist, Islamophobic viewpoints,” Vincent Boissonneault, an international studies student at Université Laval, told the Montreal Gazette. “Unfortunately, that’s become more or less acceptable these days.”
Jean-Michel Allard Prus told Vice Media he once participated in a group project with Bissonnette at Laval.
“He was a pro-Israel and pro-Trump guy,” Allard-Prus said. “He didn’t have his arms open to immigrants, you could say. He was against all gun control. He could have been a perfect Republican.”
The attack took place in one of the least violent places in the world. Quebec City, with a population of more than 500,000 people, has averaged less than five murders over the last several years. Baltimore, with a population of just over 600,000 people, had more than 300 murders last year alone.
Authorities have released the names of the mosque victims: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41; Khaled Belkacemi, 60; Aboubaker Thabti, 44; Azzeddine Soufiane, 57 and Ibrahima Barry, 39. Five people were hospitalised, two critically, and about a dozen suffered minor injuries in the attack.
A vigil in Quebec City on Monday night drew thousands; hundreds more gathered to pay their respects in Montreal.
“This community experienced something that no community should ever have to know,” Trudeau told the crowd in Quebec, speaking in French and English. “We stand with you. We love you and we support you and we will always defend and protect your right to gather together and pray.”
Later he tweeted: “Tonight, we gathered in Quebec City as one community, as one country, and as one family. #TousUnis.”
Since Trudeau’s party won election in 2015, Canada has admitted 39,000 Syrian refugees. The assault occurred amid a global uproar this weekend over Trump’s temporary ban on admitting into the United States refugees and immigrants from war-torn Syria and six other majority-Muslim countries.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said at least a dozen mosques were vandalised last year across the country. However, no incidents of anti-Muslim killings had occurred until now.
The Quebec City mosque was the target of a hate crime during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in June. In that incident, a worshiper found a pig’s head left at the mosque’s doorstep. A note with it said: “Bon appétit,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Islam prohibits eating pork.
Trump called Trudeau on Monday to express condolences about the mosque attack. White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the shootings “a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant. And why the president is taking steps to be proactive, not reactive.”
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