'More questions than answers': Was mosque shooting an act of terror?
The investigation into a mass shooting at a Quebec mosque is leaving many unanswered questions, including whether the deadly attack was politically or ideologically motivated.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, of Quebec City, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder following a shooting at a mosque in Sainte-Foy Sunday night.
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He is believed to be the lone suspect in the attack. Police have searched a home where Bissonnette reportedly lived, and several other locations around Quebec City.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard have both condemned the incident as a terrorist attack. Authorities have yet to lay any terrorism charges.
Phil Gurski, a former strategy analyst and homegrown terrorism expert for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), says there are “more questions than answers right now.”
In the “days and weeks” ahead, investigators will likely be looking at whether other individuals were involved, and what motivated the suspected shooter, Gurski said in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.
“Right now we know it as a mass shooting,” Gurski said. “It’s not an act of terrorism until we determine what the motivation is.”
For an event to be deemed an act of terrorism under Canadian law to occur, it would include:
-A serious act of violence
-An act committed against non-combatants or civilians
-Carried out for some kind of ideological motivation
Gurski said the mosque shooting “certainly looks like an act of terrorism,” but until police determine whether the acts were carried out based on political leanings or religious beliefs, “it’s still a mass shooting and not an act of terrorism.”
Bissonnette had posted right-wing, pro-U.S. President Donald Trump beliefs on Facebook, and expressed support for French politician Marine Le Pen. The posts have since been deleted.
Investigators would be looking at what the suspect would have posted online, Gurski said, with whom he was in contact, what groups he may have belonged to.
“What kind of world he lived in online in terms of ideologies,” Gurski said. “Was he part of a far-right movement? Was he part of an anti-immigrant or Islamophobic movement?”
Barring a confession, it’s only by “examining those aspects" that “we get some insight" into motivation.
Former national security analyst Stephanie Carvin told CTV News Channel Tuesday, that in the past it’s been “very hard” to lay terrorism charges against “right-wing extremists.”
“Unlike the Islamic State … right-wing extremists don’t have a coherent ideology. It’s a very fragmented movement, so it’s very hard to pinpoint exactly an ideological motivation,” she said.
Carvin believes politicians have “rightfully” called the mosque shooting a terrorist attack. “I think that brings some solace to the community. But from a legal perspective, the Criminal Code … makes it very clear that in order to bring terrorism charges, you have to have committed an act in the name of an ideology, political movement or religion in order to intimidate the population.”
She added: “And meeting that legal threshold sometimes in the cases of right-wing extremism is unfortunately, very, very difficult.”
CTV legal analyst Edward Prutschi said on CTV News Channel on Monday that terror-related charges can be linked to hate crime offences.
Prutschi said while it is “difficult to imagine assaults happening at a mosque against Muslims, and it not be a hate crime,” it is plausible that Sunday’s shooting could also be the result of an altercation between individuals in which others were “caught in the crossfire.”
“There’s no suggestion that’s the case (in the mosque shooting) but if that were the case, then it’s just a terrible crime that happens to have occurred at a mosque, and happens to have occurred in the context of the Muslim community,” Prutschi said.
“If it’s done though, to target that community to target that mosque, you’re now talking about both a hate crime and a terrorism offence.”
The attack came as protesters around the world expressed outrage over U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees from several Muslim-majority countries. The ban has left many to wonder if the actions influenced the attack north of the border.
But Gurski said that “what’s happening in the wider world” isn’t what investigators in Quebec City are focusing on. Instead they are trying to determine if there were any signs that the suspected shooter was “radicalizing to the point of violence,” he said.
“So what’s happening in the wider world is certainly fodder for watercooler conversations if you will, but I’m not sure it’s part of the investigation itself.”
Gurski said he “would be very surprised” if Canada’s national terrorism threat level, which remains at “medium,” would be increased over this incident, as it has “little bearing on the overall threat posture” in Canada and abroad.