Alexandre Bissonnette was well-known in his community as an anti-immigration Laval University student who frequently made xenophobic comments on social media about Islam. He allegedly shot six people dead, injuring eight more, in a Canadian mosque on Sunday, and was charged with six counts of murder on Monday.
The New York Times reports that Bissonette was working alone, despite initial reports of additional shooters at the scene. He studied anthropology and political science just minutes from the attack. Many seemed aware of his hostile presence online, though according to the Associated Press, he was unknown to the police. A job counselor who works with young people named François Deschamps told the NYT, “The minute I saw his picture this morning, I recognized him.”
Many of Bissonette’s posts allegedly expressed support for Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French far right party (and coffee buddy of Trump), who regularly campaigns against immigration, particularly of Muslims from North Africa. Deschamps wrote on the Facebook page Bienvenues aux Refugiés, “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.”
The Globe and Mail reports that other acquaintances with Bissonette were aware of his extremism. A student from Laval, Vincent Boissoneault, knew Bissonette from childhood. Boissoneault told them that he frequently argued with his old friend over politics on Facebook. He said, “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,” adding, “I never thought he could be violent.”
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau labeled the attack terrorism, and said, “Muslim Canadians are valued members of every community and wherever they live they deserve to feel safe; they are home here.” This is the first time anyone has been killed in a mosque under such circumstances. The six people killed were Azzeddine Soufiane, who worked as butcher in a shop down the street from the mosque, a professor at Laval University named Khaled Belkacemi, Mamadou Tanou Barry, who worked in information technology, and his brother, public servant Ibrahima Barry, a father of two named Aboubaker Thabti, and a programming analyst with the provincial government, Abdelkrim Hassane.