Quebec suspect seen as 'nerdy outcast', fan of France's right-wing Le Pen

By Reuters   January 31, 2017 | 09:51 am GMT+7
Quebec suspect seen as 'nerdy outcast', fan of France's right-wing Le Pen
Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, is seen in a Facebook posting. Facebook/Handout via Reuters

On his Facebook page, he indicated he liked Le Pen, U.S. President Donald Trump, the separatist Parti Quebecois as well as Canada's left-wing New Democratic Party.

The French-Canadian student charged in a shooting spree that killed six people at a Quebec City mosque was known in online circles as a supporter of far-right French politician Marine Le Pen and described by a former classmate as a "nerdy outcast."

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, the sole suspect in Sunday night's shooting, was charged on Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Police said he acted alone.

He was not previously known to police, but a Facebook post by the group "Welcome to Refugees - Quebec City" said Bissonnette was "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."

The online profile for Bissonnette, who made a brief court appearance on Monday, showed a wide variety of interests.

On his Facebook page, he indicated he liked Le Pen, U.S. President Donald Trump, the separatist Parti Quebecois as well as Canada's left-wing New Democratic Party, the Israeli Defense Forces, heavy metal band Megadeth and pop star Katy Perry.

"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," Vincent Boissoneault, a fellow Laval University student, told the Globe and Mail newspaper. He said they frequently clashed over Bissonnette's opinions about refugees and support for Le Pen and Trump.

Bissonnette's lawyer, Jean Petit, declined to comment at the courthouse on Monday. Université Laval confirmed on Monday that Bissonnette was a social science student there.

Bissonnette was a cerebral "nerdy outcast," said former high school classmate Simon de Billy, adding the suspect and his twin brother were inseparable.

"He was an avid reader, knew a lot about history and about current issues, current politics, those kinds of topics," de Billy said. "He was just a bit of a loner, always with his twin brother, didn't have any friends.

"He wasn't physically strong or imposing, and probably got a bit of a hard time, was probably not taken seriously. ... He would be kind of made fun of, the butt of the jokes."

 

A shout, a hail of bullets, then death

Abdi was sitting cross-legged on the floor reading the Quran with his friends when the shooting began - a staccato spray of bullets into the crowd of worshippers gathered on Sunday at the mosque in Quebec City, Canada.

It was the shout from the doorway that alerted them: "Allahu akbar!" which means "God is greatest!"

"We all turned and that's the point when they started shooting," said Abdi, a 22-year-old student who declined to give his last name, fearing for his safety.

Abdi hit the floor, arms over his head and ears. But he could still hear the men around him praying for their lives until gunfire cut them short. He felt a trio of bullets whisk over his head.

"Everyone got down, and those people standing in prayer, two of them were in the same row as I was, and the bullets hit them," said Abdi, who spoke with Reuters Monday from his home in Montreal. He was in Quebec City visiting friends when he was caught in the carnage.

"People were praying to God, 'Save us from this hell; save us from this massacre.'"

Again and again, Abdi heard the sound of reloading guns. He prayed the attackers would not go upstairs, where the women and children were gathered.

"I thought I was going to die."

Abdi is convinced he saw two shooters. Police say there was only one.

It was not until police cleared the scene that Abdi opened his eyes. He stood and beheld "a graveyard" - dead, dying and injured people just feet from where he and his friends had lain.

"It was a horrible moment."

The phrase "Allahu akbar" is a common religious invocation that has been uttered by some attackers in incidents inspired by Islamic State. But that night, Abdi said, he could tell it was not a Muslim speaking it. "The tone of voice is different for a person who speaks Arabic or who can recite the Quran."

On Monday, Alexandre Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon in connection with the shooting that killed six people and injured 17 others. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "a terrorist attack."

In the massacre's aftermath Sunday night, survivors and bystanders gathered across the street from the mosque in a coffee shop that handed out free coffee as family members crowded in to dial loved ones on repeat, and swarms of reporters charged their phones.

quebec-suspect-seen-as-nerdy-outcast-fan-of-frances-right-wing-le-pen

An ambulance is parked at the scene of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada January 29, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Mathieu Belanger

Amin emerged from the cafe to head home, shell-shocked, his gloveless hands growing cold and chapped in the below-freezing air.

Amin told Reuters he had cowered by the mosque's eastern wall from the gunfire. When silence fell, he stood to see bodies slumped around him. He asked that only his first name be used.

Zebida Bendjeddou left the mosque before the carnage erupted and spent much of Sunday night glued to her television, trading phone calls with friends and community members hungry for news of the attack on their place of worship.

"Everything is toppled," she told Reuters.

There have been threats before, she said, but nothing like this.

"In June they'd put a pig's head in front of the mosque. But we thought, 'Oh, they're isolated events.' We didn't take it seriously. There are mean people everywhere.

But now, "those isolated events, they take on a different scope."