Student who attacked Quebec mosque known for far-right views

The university student charged with killing six Muslim men during evening prayers at a mosque in Canada was known for far-right nationalist views and his support of the French far-right party led by Marine Le Pen.

Alexandre Bissonnette has been charged with murder. Picture: Contributed

Alexandre Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder in connection with the shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque that Canada’s prime minister called an act of terrorism against Muslims.

Bissonnette, 27, a French Canadian, made a brief court appearance and did not enter a plea. Wearing a white prisoner jumpsuit, his hands and feet shackled, he stared down at the floor and fidgeted.

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The suspect, who has espoused support for Ms Le Pen and US president Donald Trump on his Facebook page, was known to those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec, said François Deschamps, an official with a refugee advocacy group.

Writing on the Facebook page of the group, Bienvenues Aux Refugies, or Welcome To Refugees, Mr Deschamps said: “It’s with pain and anger that we learn the identity of terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette, unfortunately known to many activists in Quebec for taking nationalist, pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist positions at Laval University and on social media.”

Bissonnette, an anthropology and political science major at Laval University in Quebec City, had also expressed support on his Facebook profile for Generation Nationale, a group whose manifesto includes the rejection of multiculturalism.

Authorities said Bissonnette was unknown to police.

For Ms Le Pen and her supporters, “massive migration”, notably from Muslim North Africa, is supplanting French civilisation and is at the root of many of France’s woes. “On est chez nous” (“we’re in our land”) is a mantra at National Front rallies. Her views have been endorsed by white supremacists.

More than 50 people were at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre when the shooting began during Saturday prayers, and witnesses described a scene of chaos as worshippers scrambled to find friends and loved ones.

In addition to the six men killed, 19 were wounded.

Of the five victims who remained in hospital, two were in critical condition, authorities said.

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec premier Philippe Couillard both characterised the attack as a terrorist act, which came amid strong criticism around the world over Mr Trump’s travel ban for people from seven Muslim countries.

Canada is generally welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but the French-speaking province of Quebec has had a long-simmering debate about the issues.

The previous separatist government of the province called for a ban on ostentatious religious symbols, such as the hijab, in public institutions.

Mr Trudeau said in Parliament the victims were targeted simply because of their religion. Speaking directly to the more than one million Muslims who live in Canada, he said: “We are with you … Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours.”