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‘Ashamed’ gunman Alexandre Bissonnette switches plea and admits murdering six Muslims in Quebec mosque

Bissonnette, 28, denied being a terrorist or an Islamophobe, and said he decided to plead guilty to spare victims’ families the hardship of a trial

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 12:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 7:08pm

A former Canadian university student has pleaded guilty to killing six men who were praying in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017, a court said on Wednesday, averting a trial in one of the country’s rare mass shootings.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, handcuffed and wearing leg irons as he entered the Quebec City courtroom, had asked on Monday to change his previous plea of not guilty.

“I am ashamed of what I did,” he said. “Despite what has been said about me, I am neither a terrorist nor an Islamophobe. Rather, I am someone who was overcome by fear, by negative thoughts and a sort of horrible kind of despair.”

Speaking to the courtroom, which included members of the mosque, the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, Bissonnette said he decided to plead guilty to spare the families the hardship of a trial.

Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot imposed a publication ban on the guilty plea and ordered Bissonnette to undergo a psychiatric examination to ensure he knew the consequences of his decision.

Huot then declared him guilty on six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.

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The slightly built, dark-haired Bissonnette looked down and at times wiped away tears as the judge read out the names of the mosque shooting victims.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially described the shooting as a terrorist attack, although prosecutors did not charge Bissonnette with terrorism.

Police have described him as a “lone wolf” attacker.

Mass shootings are rare in Canada, where gun control laws are stricter than in the United States.

Sentencing arguments begin on April 10. 

Bissonnette told the judge then that he had been thinking for some time of pleading guilty but that he was missing certain pieces of evidence, which were relayed Sunday.

When Huot asked him if he was fully aware of what he was doing, Bissonnette replied, “Yes.”

Huot asked Bissonnette whether he knew he would be getting a life sentence and he answered, “I understand.”

Huot also asked if he understood he could receive consecutive sentences, meaning 150 years of prison.

“I know,” Bissonnette replied in a low voice.

Psychiatrist Sylvain Faucher said Bissonnette “is fit to stand trial and to plead what he wants to plead.”

“He did not want to be the perpetrator of another collective drama,” said Faucher, who met with Bissonnette on Monday evening.

Many members of Quebec City’s Muslim community were present in court Monday and Wednesday.

Amir Belkacemi, whose 60-year-old father, Khaled Belkacemi, was among those killed, said no one wanted to live the trauma again.

“That the trial won’t have to take place, it’s a good thing for us, it’s a good thing for everyone in the community,” Amir Belkacemi told reporters. “Very relieved.”

Jury selection had been scheduled to start April 3 and the trial to last two months.

Sentencing arguments will take place at a later date.

Those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec described Bissonnette, a 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 US President Donald Trump.

Additional reporting by Associated Press