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Quebec City mosque leader has ‘pity’ for man accused in attack

Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the court house in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada February 21, 2017.

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

The man charged in last month's shooting at a Quebec City mosque that left six dead and 19 injured appeared in court Tuesday only to be remanded in custody until the end of March when a pretrial hearing will be held.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, is expected to enter a plea when he reappears in court on March 30. He faces six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder using a restricted firearm.

Mr. Bissonnette listened attentively during the brief, heavily guarded proceeding as his lawyer, Jean Petit, requested time to examine the evidence received that morning from the crown prosecutors.

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Inside the small, packed courtroom, members of the Muslim community listened attentively, still deeply hurting a month after Mr. Bissonnette allegedly walked into the Centre culturel islamique de Quebec during evening prayers on Jan. 29 and randomly gunned down his victims.

"I have mixed feelings," Mohamed Labidi, vice-president of the mosque, said after Mr. Bissonnette's court appearance. "I have pity for the one who committed the crime while at the same time I can't help thinking about our brothers who died for nothing. This cycle of hatred that fed into this person who was blinded by this hatred. … He is still so young and had all his life ahead of him."

Mr. Labidi said the mourning process for the entire Muslim community is still far from over, especially for the wives and children of the men killed. The Muslim community is searching for an answer to why the killings took place and Mr. Labidi said he hopes to find part of the explanation during the trial.

"We need to be here. We are a community. The victims are like my brothers. It's my duty to be here," Mr. Labidi said, his voice trembling as he broke down into tears. "It is part of our mourning process."

He said the Muslim community remained confident that justice will prevail and that the outcome will help ease the pain of the families of the victims. But he also urged governments to act more forcefully against hate crimes to put an end to the cycle of violence.

"They must enforce the laws and stop these hate crimes," Mr. Labidi said. "Canada is a good country to live in and we can't have its reputation tarnished."

Nineteen people were hurt in the attack. Three of the five men who were more seriously injured have been released from hospital but two remain in critical condition. According to Mr. Labidi, one of them is recovering well but another is still in a coma. "We are very concerned about his condition," he said.

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The Centre culturel islamique de Québec has hired lawyers to follow the court proceedings and are seeking to ensure the penalty fits the crime and sends a clear message against Islamophobia.

Mr. Bissonnette may face more charges depending on what the police investigation uncovers. No decision has yet been taken as to whether terrorism charges will be filed.

Tighter security measures have been taken to protect the mosque as the Muslim community struggles to gain back a sense of normality. Attendance at the mosque has never been higher, Mr. Labidi said, adding that the community is showing great resilience in the wake of last month's tragic events.

Quebec has undergone a great deal of soul-searching since last month's shooting in an effort to demonstrate tolerance and understanding of the province's Muslim community. Political leaders promised measures to protect Muslims against racist attacks and facilitate their integration in Canadian and Quebec society.

Despite the political goodwill expressed in the aftermath of the shooting, Quebec provincial politicians remained divided on the issue of banning religious symbols such as the niqab for certain groups of public servants such as police and judges. Another debate condemning Islamophobia has divided members of Parliament in Ottawa.

The lack of consensus has created some concerns within the Muslim community, which fears a backlash. A mosque in Montreal was vandalized in the early hours Tuesday morning, one of several hate-crime incidents that have been reported across the country.

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Video: Quebec City mosque allows media inside to view aftermath of shooting
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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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