Quebec mosque suspect Bissonnette portrayed as a quiet radical
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Alexandre Bissonnette's catalogue of social-media likes included US President Donald Trump, Garfield the Cat, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, heavy metal rockers Megadeth and popstar Katy Perry.
Canadian media sifting through the Facebook likes and social media presence of the alleged Quebec City mosque shooter uncovered a mix of usual youthful amusements and darker far-right and anti-feminist leanings.
And yet, family members and acquaintances told Canadian media, there was little to suggest Bissonnette, 27, a slightly built student who grew up in the local suburb of Cap Rouge and was unknown to police save for traffic tickets, would murder six Muslim men in cold blood and wound 19 during evening prayers Sunday in Quebec City.
Bissonnette, the lone suspect in Sunday’s rampage, was charged Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder after turning himself in Sunday. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard have described the attack as an act of terrorism, although terrorism charges have yet to be laid.
“There are search warrants underway,” a Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokeswoman told reporters. “We hope to obtain the evidence to reach the point where we will be able to lay terrorism and national security charges.”
Montreal daily La Presse reported, citing sources close to the investigation, that the Laval University political science major did not hide his antipathy toward Muslims under interrogation.
The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that Bissonnette’s social media profile and his friends “revealed little interest in extremist politics until last March, when France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen visited Quebec City, inspiring Mr. Bissonnette to vocal extreme online activism, according to people who clashed with him starting around this time”.
He had expressed support on Facebook for “Génération Nationale”, a group that rejects “multiculturalism” in its manifesto, according to the Associated Press.
The man’s Facebook profile and comments were removed from public view on Monday.
A French-language Facebook group called "Refugees Welcome – Quebec City" posted a message Monday saying it learned of Bissonnette’s identity “with pain and anger” and that he was known to activists in Quebec’s provincial capital for his far-right, pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist stances on social media.
François Deschamps, who runs the refugee Facebook group, called Bissonnette a “troll” who referred to feminists as “feminazis”, according to La Presse.
He was also reportedly interested in guns and practiced shooting at a local gun club.
The massacre suspect’s employer Héma-Quebec, a blood bank, said in a statement it was “shocked” to learn of Bissonnette’s arrest. “As an organization whose primary mission is dedicated to the gift of life, these events have sent a shock wave through the organization,” the statement read.
Family members, too, were floored by the news. Bissonnette’s great aunt Diane Hébert told La Presse that, when she saw the young man’s photo on television, “I told myself, ‘There are a lot of Alexandre Bissonnettes in Quebec; they’ve put up his photo by mistake. He isn’t the one mixed up in all this.”
But as the hours passed, the news sunk in. “It took the wind out of me. I am shocked. I thought Alexandre was an ordinary person,” she said. “He wasn’t someone who had problems with the police, drugs, any of that. He wasn’t isolated. His family was there for him.” Hébert said Bissonnette shared an apartment with his twin brother and that the pair often visited their parents’ home for a chat and a meal.
Some old classmates had a different take. Marc-André Malenfant, who knew the Bissonnette brothers in high school, told La Presse, “When we talked about [Alexandre] and his twin brother, we called them ‘the mean one’ and ‘the nice one’. His brother was a lot more likeable.”
Others said the young Alexandre was often bullied in school, but seemed to let the mockery roll off his back with a degree of amusement.
Accounts of Bissonnette’s recent behaviour vary.
One acquaintance told Le Soleil, a Quebec City daily, that Bissonnette had cut ties with some people close to him, including his best friend.
“He had withdrawn and was no longer communicating with people for about a month. His best friend couldn’t reach him anymore. The last time he wrote me was after [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro’s death,” Eric Debroise told Le Soleil. “I didn’t answer him. He was angry that media he thought of as left wing were not denouncing Castro while they were being very vocal against Trump,” whom he says Bissonnette openly supported.
Not to say Debroise saw Sunday’s rampage coming.
“He was small and slim, very introverted with shifty eyes. He didn’t seem strong. I would never have thought he was at risk of radicalising,” Debroise told the paper.
Still, another recent acquaintance paints a more sociable picture of Bissonnette. “I saw him about two weeks ago. We had a beer together. He liked to talk politics, but he never said anything out of line. He never showed admiration for extremist politicians,” said Marius Valentino. “He was a quiet guy, not at all violent. I would never have imagined that he could do something like this.”
Bissonnette is set to appear again in court on February 21.
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