Suspect in mosque shooting a moderate conservative turned extremist, say friends, classmates

A shy chess-player, a bullied introvert, a moderate conservative turned far-right troll — these are the descriptions being offered of Alexandre Bissonnette since he was accused of perpetrating a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque.

Accused gunman has reputation as online troll who expresses support for far-right politicians

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was escorted to a van after appearing in court Monday, charged in the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque the day before. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A shy chess-player, a bullied introvert, a moderate conservative turned far-right troll — these are the descriptions being offered of Alexandre Bissonnette since he was accused of perpetrating a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque. 

Bissonnette looked nervous during his brief court appearance on Monday. He didn't say a word and shuffled in his handcuffs; before being escorted out, he was charged with 11 counts of murder and attempted murder. 

He could still face more charges as the RCMP examine whether to add terrorism to the list of offences.

Police believe the shooter entered the Islamic cultural centre in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy just before 8 p.m. on Sunday, equipped with a long gun.

The gun jammed, police sources told Radio-Canada, prompting the shooter to leave and return with a nine-millimetre handgun.

Bissonnette was arrested later that night, on a bridge heading to Île d'Orléans, an island outside Quebec City.

In his car, the sources said, officers found a nine-millimetre handgun registered to Bissonnette. That gun had a 15-round capacity.

Identified with far right

Bissonnette grew up in Cap-Rouge, a suburb southwest of Quebec City, where his parents still live. Neighbours remembered him as a "closed-off young man." 

Slender and quiet, Bissonnette stuck out for the wrong reasons in high school. "He was treated badly, that's for sure," said Toma Popescu, a classmate between eighth and tenth grade at Les Compagnons-de-Cartier. 

"He didn't look quite the same as the other kids and was very introverted," Popescu added. "He kept his thought and emotions to himself."

People have been leaving cards, candles and messages of hope near the mosque where six men were killed Sunday night. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

But he came across as intelligent to his peers, and joined the chess club at Laval University, where he studied anthropology and political science.   

Bissonnette appeared to enjoy discussing politics with select classmates at university. Jean-Michel Allard Prus, who took a politics class with Bissonnette, said they often debated with each other on Facebook.

In these debates, Bissonnette expressed fairly mainstream conservative views. A hunter, he opposed gun control and was pro-Israel, but otherwise didn't bring up more divisive issues such as Muslims or immigration.

But that was a year ago.

"I think … something happened. He radicalized a lot," Prus said. "He seemed just a normal right-wing individual."

As Bissonnette began to espouse more radical views, he stopped interacting with his fellow students. He took part in at least one informal discussion group, but quickly found its members too moderate and stopped attending.

"He was not interested by our politics meeting because we are conservative and moderate right wing," said Éric Debroise, a Laval University student and member of the discussion group.

"He is more far-right or alt-right."

Trump, Le Pen political idols

Debroise described Bissonnette as nice but anti-social. In their meetings, he said, Bissonnette often spoke admiringly of U.S. President Donald Trump and the French far-right politician Marine Le Pen. 

Bissonnette's neighbours say police spent several hours searching his apartment and his parents' home. (Facebook)

Trump enjoys the support of the alt-right, a loosely defined political movement that includes white nationalists and white supremacists.

The alt-right is known, too, for its army of online trolls who circulate racist memes and virulent attacks on perceived opponents.   

Within activist circles in Quebec City, Bissonnette has been considered an extremist troll in his own right. 

In a Facebook post, a refugee support group said Bissonnette is "known to several activists in Quebec City for his pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist positions."

The group said Bissonnette is fond of using the term "feminazi" — alt-right slang for those who advocate women's rights.

Worked at blood bank

While at university, Bissonnette lived with his twin brother, Mathieu, in an apartment in Sainte-Foy, close to the mosque where Monday's attack took place.

He also worked in the call centre of Héma-Québec, the province's blood bank.

A statement from the agency said the organization is "shocked" to learn that he was among their employees.

Torontonians held a vigil Monday night for victims of the mosque shooting, as did groups across the country. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"As an organization whose primary mission is dedicated to the gift of life, these events have sent a shock wave through the organization."

Bissonnette's neighbours told Radio-Canada they saw police conduct an extensive search of the Bissonnette brothers' apartment in Sainte-Foy. 

Officers left with several bags, residents said. Police also searched his parents' home in Cap-Rouge.

With files from Radio-Canada