QUEBEC – The Canadian terrorist’s guilty plea in Wednesday’s trial has brought relief to the families of the Muslim victims who were shot last year on January 29 at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec.
“It’s a relief that we avoided a long court trial with the guilty pleas this morning — that relieves the whole community and especially the family of the victims,” Mohamed Labidi, former president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec mosque told Montreal Gazette’s interviewer on March 28.
The police investigated that 53 witnesses have seen the terrorist mass shooting which occurred in Sainte-Foy neighborhood, Quebec.
As many as six Canadian Muslims were killed and 19 others injured when the Francophone Canadian student, Alexandre Bissonnette, opened fire at the worshippers during an evening prayer.
“Bissonnette believes he isn’t a terrorist,” but for most Muslim victims in the courtroom, many of whom broke into tears as the names of their loved ones were read out, the grief of loss will remain deep.
The co-founder of Quebec Islamic Centre, Boufeldja Benabdallah, said it was too early to “pardon the criminal.
“It’s not easy,” he expressed. “We have to let people first live their grief, and it’s up to them to decide if they will grant forgiveness or not.”
“People are still in shock. I think the sentence has to come out, many things have to happen before they can have some peace,” Benabdallah believes.
Added to the pain was the frustration felt by the Canadian Muslim families at the courtroom with the motivation behind Bissonnette’s crimes still unclear, as well as his claim that his crimes weren’t motivated by Islamophobia.
“You have to take his denial of Islamophobia with a grain of salt, and you have to wonder about that,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
“He deliberately chose a mosque to go in and attack a group of unarmed civilians, essentially shooting them in the back as they were standing in prayer. He admitted to his guilt to several first-degree murder charges as well as other charges, so you have to question that, and I think many in the community will question that,” Gardee notified.
One of the severely injured victims, Aymen Derbali, – who became a quadriplegic- asked “I don’t know what his intentions were if he wasn’t Islamophobic, if it wasn’t an act of terrorism. For me, it was both an act of terrorism, and Islamophobia.”
Bissonnette shot Derbali with seven bullets while the Canadian Muslim father of three was attempting to aid other worshippers at the mosque.
For Niemi, executive director of Montreal’s Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) hopes the case would be tried as a hate crime, which carries a tougher sentence.
“If it’s not treated as a hate-motivated crime, it would lose a little of the meaning of the case.”
He continued that “what’s unfortunate about the guilty plea is that there has been no recognition of the massacre as a terrorist act. We have been told it hasn’t been raised by the prosecution, but we are very perplexed by the decision.”
A former president of the mosque, Rachid Raffa, said: “Treating the attack as merely a criminal issue was a denial of justice. There has been a fierce opposition in Quebec to recognize this crime as a terrorist attack.”