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Quebec mosque shooter sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 40 years

Judge says Alexandre Bissonnette's 2017 attack, which killed six Muslim men, was hate crime motivated by 'visceral hatred' of Muslim immigrants
Bissonnette, 29, pleaded guilty to six counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder (AFP/File photo)
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Montreal, Canada

The gunman who opened fire inside a Canadian mosque in 2017, killing six Muslim men, has been sentenced to life in prison without the option of parole for at least 40 years.

In a Quebec City courtroom on Friday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Francois Huot described Alexandre Bissonnette's crime as "gratuitous, covert and murderous", La Presse Canadienne news agency reported.

Bissonnette, 29, pleaded guilty last year to six counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder in relation to the shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre on 29 January 2017.

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As he read out portions of his 246-page ruling over several hours, Huot said the attack was a hate crime motivated by a "visceral hatred for immigrants who are Muslim", local reporters said from the courtroom.

"29 January 2017 is a date that will remain written in blood in this city, this province, this country," he said, as reported by Radio-Canada, the French arm of national broadcaster CBC.

"I hope that justice will be served and the sentence will reflect the crime that was committed," said Huot, La Presse Canadienne reported.

Armed with a rifle and a handgun, Bissonnette opened fire in a crowded room at the Quebec City mosque shortly after evening prayers two years ago.

"QUOTE"httSix men - Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Azzedine Soufiane - were killed and 19 others were wounded in the shooting, including five critically.

The attack on the house of worship sent shockwaves across Quebec and Canada, and left the victims' families and friends, as well as Muslim communities across the country, reeling.

Leila Nasr, spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), an advocacy group, told Middle East Eye that whatever the court's ruling would have been, it was "an incredibly difficult day".

"It's very difficult, I would imagine, to really find true closure on a day like today," she said, adding that people's hearts were with the families of the victims and the entire Quebec City mosque community.

"It's really just a day of processing what's happening and trying to find some sense of sanity in the middle of it."

Judge wrestled with decision

Bissonnette espoused anti-immigrant views and appeared to be fascinated by a bevy of far-right ideologues, frequently perusing the websites and social media feeds of US President Donald Trump, France’s Marine Le Pen, and others.

He told police investigators that he believed a terrorist attack was imminent and felt he "had to do something".

Bissonnette also told a psychiatrist that he regretted not killing more people.

The Crown, which argued during trial that anti-Muslim hatred underpinned the attack, had asked the court to sentence Bissonnette to life in prison without the possibility of parole before 150 years.

That would have been the longest sentence in Canadian history, after the federal government under previous Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper changed the country's sentencing rules to allow for harsher punishment.

Bissonnette’s defence team had questioned the severity of such a sentence during the trial, saying it amounts to a death sentence.

In court on Friday, Huot said it would be "unreasonable" to send Bissonnette to jail for 150 years, Radio-Canada reported.

He also said life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years would be too lenient given the facts of the case.

However, Huot said under Canadian law he could only decide in 25-year tranches on parole, CBC News' Catou MacKinnon reported, and 50 years was "clearly excessive".

Nonetheless, the judge handed down a sentence of 40 years without parole because he said abiding by the Harper-era law - by sentencing him to 50 years - would violate Bissonnette's constitutional rights, MacKinnon later reported.

'A long way to go'

Before the sentence was handed down, the NCCM said more work needs to be done to address Islamophobia in Canada.

No matter the outcome of today's decision, nothing can diminish the incredible support & solidarity felt by many Canadian Muslims in the wake of the attack, and during the past 2 years

- National Council of Canadian Muslims

"No matter the outcome of today's decision, nothing can diminish the incredible support & solidarity felt by many Canadian Muslims in the wake of the attack, and during the past 2 years," the group said on Twitter.

"We have a long way to go to root out #Islamophobia, but we are more determined than ever."

Last week, hundreds of people across Canada held rallies to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the mosque attack.

In Montreal, Quebec's largest city, people condemned the political discourse in the province, which they said contributes to Islamophobia and acts of violence.

Khaled Labdelli, a Montreal resident who was at the vigil, told MEE he wanted to commemorate the victims of the attack and make sure what happened is never forgotten.

"Time goes by quickly," he said. "I think we always have to talk about this because people forget fast."