Quebec mosque gunman sentenced to life for killing 6 Muslims

Published 10.02.2019 19:03
Updated 10.02.2019 19:04
Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the court house in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada Feb. 21, 2017. (Reuters Photo)
Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the court house in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada Feb. 21, 2017. (Reuters Photo)

A 29-year-old who shot dead six worshipers at a Quebec City mosque in the worst anti-Muslim attack in the West got life in prison Friday.

Alexandre Bissonnette will have to wait 40 years -- longer than usual -- before he can apply for parole.

In his decision, Judge Francois Huot rejected a prosecution request for a 150-year sentence, which would have been the longest ever in Canada, saying "subjecting a murder to a sentence that exceeds his life expectancy" would be a cruel and unusual punishment under Canadian law.

But he also noted the killer's "visceral hatred of Muslim immigrants."

"You killed six of your compatriots whose only crime was to be different than yourself," Huot said in court.

"With your hatred and racism, you've ruined their lives, yours and your parents', and the crime you've done deserves the greatest denunciation," he said.

A university student at the time of the shooting, Bissonnette appeared to have been seduced by nationalist and supremacist ideologies into committing this "unjustified and deadly" massacre that sought to "undermine our fundamental societal values," the judge said.

The attack at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in the quiet Sainte-Foy neighborhood of Canada's oldest city, he concluded, will go down in Canadian history "written in blood" as one of this country's worst tragedies.

As the 246-page verdict was read over a six-hour period, Bissonnette sat quietly in the packed courtroom, gazing at his feet while his parents and several friends and family of the victims wiped tears from their eyes.

Outside the courtroom, Aymen Derbali, who was left quadriplegic in the shooting, said he was "very upset and astonished" that Bissonnette did not get more time.

"I had hoped for justice for the victims, for the people who died, and that the sentence reflected the seriousness of the crime," he said.

"This was a very serious attack in a place of worship."

Surrounded by members who lamented having to face Bissonnette at a parole hearing in the future and relive the tragedy, mosque president Boufeldja Benabdallah said: "We are completely stunned."

On Jan. 29, 2017, Bissonnette burst into the Quebec City mosque and opened fire at the 40 men and four children, who were chatting among themselves after evening prayers.

Security video footage showed the killer strategically and methodically firing dozens of shots, retreating to a safe area to reload his nine-millimeter pistol at least four times, "like he was playing a video game," recounted one witness.

Six men were killed and five were seriously injured. The victims were all dual nationals – two Algerians, two Guineans, a Moroccan and a Tunisian – who had emigrated to Canada over the recent decades.

Those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec described the 29-year-old French-Canadian university student as someone who took extreme nationalist positions at Laval University and on social media. He was a supporter of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Like the rest of the world, Islamophobia has become a problem in Canada. There has been a surge in Islamophobic attacks in the country, targeted particularly against mosques.

The Canadian statistical agency, Statistics Canada, found that there was an increase of reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada, from 99 incidents to 159, an increase of 60 percent, between 2014 and 2015.

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