Alexandre Bissonnette, suspect in Quebec mosque shooting, studied at Laval
Police initially said two suspects had been arrested shortly after the shooting but later said further investigation showed only one of them was a suspect, calling the other man a witness.
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QUEBEC CITY— The police investigation into a shooting rampage at a mosque in the community of Ste-Foy Quebec that killed six people and injured 19 is now focused on one suspect.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, is the lone person police now have in custody.
The second man they had considered to have carried out the deadly assault is now a witness, Surete du Quebec said in a tweet Monday afternoon.
After initially saying they had two people in custody in connection with the shooting rampage, Quebec police — in a surprising reversal from their morning press conference— now say there is only one suspect.
In the suburban neighbourhood of Cap-Rouge — about 15 minutes from the mosque — neighbours said police arrived at Bissonette’s residence around 9 a.m. on Monday. Many said they were shocked to learn of his alleged involvement in the shooting.
Rosalie Bussieres, 23, lives across the street. She told the Star her older brother was in school with Bissonnette.
He was “very solitary” and “very antisocial,” said Bussieres.
Bissonette was a student in the department of political science and anthropology at Université Laval, according to Jean-Claude Dufour, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences.
Bissonnette was on both the Sainte-Foy and Université Laval chess club with his twin brother, said Université Laval professor Jean Sévigny, who said he knew Bissonnette and his brother through the club.
“I can only give you the impression I had and that was that he seemed, he gave the impression of being a very good person,” said Sévigny, who last remembered seeing him in the fall of 2015.
The horror that started just as Sunday evening prayers ended left six people dead and another 19 injured — two critically with significant injuries “mainly to the abdomen,” a spokesperson for Centre Hospitalier Universite Laval said. The rest have been treated and released.
The victims, all male, ranged in age from 35 to 60 years. Police said there were another 39 people inside the Cultural Centre of Quebec’s Grand Mosque as Sunday prayers ended. That’s when two individuals said to be wearing ski masks and carrying firearms burst into the building and opened fire on the worshippers, according to witness accounts.
One of the victims has been identified as Université Laval Agriculture and Food Sciences professor Khaled Belkacemi.
“I am extremely sad over this horrible news. My thoughts are with his professor Belkacemi’s spouse and family; a colleague we will miss very much,” said Rector Denis Briere in a statement.
Université Laval Agriculture and Food Sciences professor Khaled Belkacemi has been identified as one of the victims of the Grand Mosque shooting.
Another victim, Azzedine Soufiane, was a grocer and butcher who had three children. Local imam Karim Elabed described him in an interview as an important member of the community — a longtime Quebec City resident who often helped guide newcomers to the provincial capital.
“Mr. Soufiane was someone who was well known in Quebec because he opened one of the first community businesses here,” said Elabed, an imam at a mosque in nearby Levis.
“Myself, when I arrived here eight years ago, (his shop) was the first place I learned about and pretty much all of Quebec’s Muslims did their groceries there.”
Abdelkrim Hassen was also a father three. His friend, Ali Hamadi, said he left the mosque a few minutes before the shooting and that Hassen was killed.
Hamadi said Hassen worked in information technology for the government and that he was a father with three daughters and a wife.
The second man who was initially in police custody and then cleared was identified as Mohamed Belkhadir.
He is a practicing Muslim and student at Université Laval who is originally from Morocco and has been renting a room in the basement of a home just a few blocks from the mosque where the shooting occurred. His landlord and neighbours said he often frequented the Grand Mosque in Quebec City—to pray.
There was a flurry of police activity on Monday morning at the apartment where Belkhadir had been renting the room. But officers left the residence around 11 a.m. without having searched his room.
The owner of the building, Bernard Blaise, told the Star that police told him they didn’t have the proper authorizations to search the room and that they would contact him if they obtained the proper authorizations from a judge.
Politicians react to shooting at Quebec City mosque
“He was excellent. He’s a religious Muslim,” said Blaise. “He comes from a good family. I can’t understand how he could be a suspect.”
At a press conference Monday morning, prior to clearing one of the men, police released little information about the alleged shooters — except to say they are men, were not known to police, and are in their 20s and 30s.
Frantic calls reporting shots fired at the mosque started coming in at 7:50 p.m. Sunday. The first suspect was arrested at the scene, police said Monday.
The second suspect contacted 911 around 8:10 p.m., parked close to the nearby L’Ile-d’Orleans bridge, said he was armed and would cooperate.
Though the identities, motives and associations of the shooting are not yet known, officials and political leaders have not hesitated to label the killings.
In a statement to the country from the floor of the Commons Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the shooting an act of terror that struck at the core of Canada’s intrinsic values of openness and freedom.
“This was a group of innocents targeted for practicing their faith. Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack,” Trudeau said, adding such senseless violence has no place in Canada.
“Canada has long been a diverse and accepting nation. We are kind, we are generous and we embrace one another not in spite of our differences but because of them.”
The Prime Minister urged people to “try to be the best versions of ourselves in these dark hours.”
To the more than one million Muslims that reside in the country he said: “We will grieve with you. We will defend you. We will love you and we will stand with you.”
Trudeau will fly to Quebec City later today, his office said.
The Prime Minister’s speech was followed by several others from opposition party leaders, all of whom urged unity.
“Today our hearts are broken, but with love and hope we come together with the shared belief that we will overcome,” said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
Rhéal Fortin, leader of the Bloc Québécois, expressed disbelief in his speech.
“How can someone do this? It simply does not make any sense,” he said, adding.
“We stand with the families and friends who yesterday lost a loved one for nothing.”
In Toronto, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who called the attack “a cowardly act of terror,” visited a downtown mosque and greeted noon worshippers as the call to prayers played over a public address system.
“No one should have to fear worshipping,” the premier told reporters earlier in the day before heading to the Masjid Toronto mosque on Dundas St.
Quebec City police, the provincial police and the RCMP have combined forces for the investigation in accordance with an official terrorism protocol that was invoked at around 10 p.m. Roughly 200 police officers were on duty last night.
A team of national security investigators that include integrated members of Quebec police forces are now involved in the investigation into the shooting, said a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
If terrorist motivations are proven by police, the Quebec City mosque massacre becomes only the second time since the 1985 Air India bombing that a terrorist plot will have been successfully carried out on Canadian soil.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said there would be increased security at mosques and other places of worship throughout the province in the wake of the killings.
“The whole world is watching us today,” Couillard said at a press conference Monday afternoon. “It’s our moment, together, to show who we are.”
Mohamed Yangui, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, said in an interview Sunday evening that there had been no recent threats or incidents targeting the mosque or members of the community, although there was one high-profile hate incident in which someone left a severed pig’s head at the entrance to the community centre last June during Ramadan with a note reading: “Bon appetit.” Observant Muslims refrain from eating pork.
Asked who might commit such an act, or why, Yangui said: “I have no idea. Really, no idea.”
In a statement, the Canadian Council of Imams condemned the killings, which it attributed to “Islamophobia.”
“Our message to anyone in the Canadian Muslim community who may experience Islamophobia is not to suffer in silence. We must report acts of hate and bring them to the attention of our fellow citizens,” the statement read.
“As Canadian Muslims we know how devastating it is to be blamed for the actions of a few. We reject blaming any community, culture or religion for these murders. We are all Canadians and we are all bound by this tragedy together.”
The killings have sent shock waves throughout Quebec City’s Muslim community, but also across the province and the country.
Flags at schools from the Peel District School board flew at half mast Monday and officials said they were working to get resources to schools to help with conversations with students and tips for family, according to an email sent to all schools Monday.
Messages of sympathy and condemnation also flooded in from politicians around the world, including from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, French President François Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This murder of people who had gathered at a mosque to pray is staggering in its cruelty and cynicism,” Putin said in a statement released Monday morning.
Justin Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump, who expressed his condolences to Canadians following the attack.
The City of Paris, home to several recent acts of terror, is turning off the Eiffel Tower’s lights starting at midnight to show a “fraternal message to everyone in Quebec and in Canada,” Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said on twitter.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, who fought back tears when he addressed reporters the night before, met with religious leaders Monday morning at city hall.
Labeaume said the city has been speaking with members of the mosque and the Muslim community at large to determine what they need in the wake of the shooting.
Members of the Ste-Foy mosque, who were not present at the shooting, were also on hand, thanking government officials and Quebecers for their outpouring of support.
“This solidarity honours us and honours you. It is a tribute to you,” said one mosque member.
Later in the day, in both Quebec City and Montreal, organizers planned to hold vigils in honour of the victims of the attack. The Montreal vigil is set to take place at 6 pm at near Parc Station.
Cities across the country — from London to Edmonton — were also planning their own gatherings.
Quebec Premier Couillard also had a specific message for Muslims in the province, who have long expressed concerns about their religious freedoms during societal debates about religious accommodations and proposed legislation that was intended to boost secularism in Quebec.
“We are with you. You are at home. You are welcome here. You are all Quebecers. Together we have to continue to build an open, welcoming and peaceful society,” Couillard said.
But those affected by the killings would be forgiven if it didn’t quite feel that way, at least not right now.
“All our thoughts go to the children, to whom we must tell about the death of their fathers,” the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City said in a message posted on its Facebook page. “That Allah provides them patience and endurance.”
With files from the Canadian Press.