Quebec Murders Initially Blamed on Islamic Terror: Killer Turns Out to Be a White, Rightwing, Trump Supporter
February 1, 2017
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain / The Intercept & TeleSur
After a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque that left six people dead, right-wing nationalist tabloids instantly linked the violence to Islamic terrorism. Fox News falsely claimed that "at least one gunman shouted 'Allahu akbar!'" In fact, the solitary shooter turned out to be a 27-year-old white French Canadian described as a rabid anti-immigrant nationalist, a far-rightwing "troll," and an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.
Suspect in Quebec Mosque Attack Quickly Depicted as a Moroccan Muslim. He's a White Nationalist
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain / The Intercept
QUEBEC (January 30, 2017) -- A mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque last night left six people dead and eight wounded. The targeted mosque, the Cultural Islamic Center of Quebec, was the same one at which a severed pig's head was left during Ramadan last June. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the episode a "terrorist attack on Muslims."
Almost immediately, various news outlets and political figures depicted the shooter as Muslim. Right-wing nationalist tabloids in the UK instantly linked it to Islamic violence. Fox News claimed that "witnesses said at least one gunman shouted 'Allahu akbar!'" and then added this about the shooter's national origin:
Suspect in Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, reports show https://t.co/oRzxGHEXDm pic.twitter.com/aEsEtccMvi
-- Fox News (@FoxNews) January 30, 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer exploited the attack to justify President Trump's ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
"It's a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation's safety and security," Spicer said at this afternoon's briefing when speaking of the Quebec City attack.
But these assertions are utterly false.
The suspect is neither Moroccan nor Muslim. The Moroccan individual, Mohamed Belkhadir, was actually one of the worshippers at the mosque and called 911 to summon the police, playing no role whatsoever in the shooting.
The actual shooting suspect is 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, a white French Canadian who is, by all appearances, a rabid anti-immigrant nationalist. A leader of a local immigration rights group, Francois Deschamps, told a local paper he recognized his photo as an anti-immigrant far-right "troll" who has been hostile to the group online.
The Globe and Mail added that he "was known in the city's activist circles as a right-wing troll who frequently took anti-foreigner and anti-feminist positions and stood up for US President Donald Trump."
And Bissonnette's Facebook page -- now taken down but still archived -- lists among its "likes" the far-right French nationalist Marine Le Pen, Islam critics Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the Israeli Defense Forces, and Donald J. Trump (he also "likes" the liberal Canadian Party NDP along with more neutral "likes" such as Tom Hanks, the Sopranos, and Katy Perry).
It is usually the case that there is significant confusion in the wake of attacks of this sort. And local police did apparently arrest two suspects at first: Bissonnette along with Belkhadir. And until the investigation is complete, one cannot know for certain what the motives here were.
One should be careful about trying to infer too much from a hodgepodge of Facebook "likes" and, this early, even anecdotal claims about Bissonnette's political views. As for reports that someone yelled "Allahu akbar," it is perfectly natural that someone in a mosque would say that upon seeing a homicidal killer randomly shooting people, or it's possible that the shooter said it mockingly.
But this is exactly why no responsible news organization, let alone the White House, should rush to depict the shooter as Muslim and of Moroccan descent when so little is known about what happened. Yet not only did Fox and the Trump White House do exactly that, but worse, neither has retracted or corrected their claims long after it became clear that they were false:
Hour & a half after tweeting out false info on #QuebecMosqueAttack Fox News has still not corrected or retracted. @ggreenwald https://twitter.com/FoxNews/status/826120752529301504 . . .
10:52 AM - 30 Jan 2017
The inflammatory effect of this sort of reckless, biased "reporting" is as predictable as it is toxic. All day long, people around the world cited these reports to justify Trump's ban as well as their own ugly views of Muslims:
TRUMP MOVEMENT @TRUMPMOVEMENTUS
Quebec gunman 'is Muslim Moroccan' http://dailym.ai/2kDFm8e via @MailOnline
7:17 AM - 30 Jan 2017
I fully condemn the shooting in Quebec City. But remember the shooters weren't yelling "Trump" they were yelling "Allahu akbar"
8:14 PM - 29 Jan 2017
The only part of any of this that's true is that it was an act of terrorism: terrorism aimed, yet again, at Muslims by someone who has apparently been indoctrinated with a great deal of hate toward them. Media outlets and the White House led people all over the world today to believe exactly the opposite.
White Quebec Terrorists Kill 6 in Attack on Mosque
(January 30, 2017) -- [Note: This early report contains information that turned out not to be true. – EAW.] At least two people have been arrested in the aftermath of the deadly shooting of a Quebec City mosque that has left five people dead in the eastern Canadian province, according to reports.
Many others were left with injuries and have been taken to the University Hospital of Quebec. Others are in hospitals throughout the city, hospital spokesman Richard Fournier told CNN.
The attack occurred around 8 p.m., during evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec City, also called the Grande Mosque de Québec, on Sainte-Foy Street. A witness told Reuters that three armed men had opened fire on about 40 people inside the mosque.
According to news agency La Presse, one of the suspects, who was later caught by police on a bridge, was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. Local newspaper Le Soleil said police told them a third suspect could still be on the run.
At least 20 emergency vehicles arrived at the scene and police quickly set up a security perimeter. Quebec City Police later confirmed that the area had been secured.
"The site is secure and the occupants (of the mosque) were evacuated. The investigation continues," the department tweeted. "Why is this happening here? This is barbaric," said the mosque's president, Mohamed Yangui.
Yangui, who was not inside the mosque when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers. He did not know how many were injured, saying they had been taken to different hospitals across Quebec City.
Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years amid a political debate over banning the niqab. In 2013, police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of Quebec was splattered with what was believed to be pig's blood. And in the neighboring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015. In June 2016, a pig's head was left on the doorstep of the cultural center once again, with an Islamophobic letter being subsequently distributed in the vicinity.
According to Yangui, however, the mosque had stopped receiving threats after that. "We have a very good relationship with the neighbors, with the community," he told the Edmonton Journal. "There's mutual respect -- and now today we have this dramatic event."
Canadian leaders have already condemned the attacks. Quebec's Premier Philippe Couillard expressed solidarity with the Muslim community, tweeting, "Let's unite against violence . . . We stand in solidarity with the Muslim people of Quebec," CNN reported.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took to social media, tweeting: "Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families," in both French and English.