Quebec mosque shooter gets life, no parole for 40 years

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In this file photo taken on February 21, 2017 Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the court house in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (AFP)
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This undated file selfie portrait sourced on social network on January 31, 2017 shows Alexandre Bissonnette. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2019
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Quebec mosque shooter gets life, no parole for 40 years

  • As the 246-page verdict was read over a six-hour period, Bissonnette sat quietly in the packed courtroom, while his parents and several friends and family of the victims wiped tears from their eyes
  • The victims were all dual nationals who emigrated to Canada over recent decades: two Algerians, two Guineans, a Moroccan and a Tunisian

QUEBEC CITY: A 29-year-old who shot dead six worshipers at a Quebec City mosque in the worst anti-Muslim attack in the West got life in prison Friday.
Alexandre Bissonnette will have to wait 40 years — longer than usual — before he can apply for parole.
In his decision, Judge Francois Huot rejected a prosecution request for a 150-year sentence, which would have been the longest ever in Canada, saying “subjecting a murder to a sentence that exceeds his life expectancy” would be a cruel and unusual punishment under Canadian law.
But he also noted the killer’s “visceral hatred of Muslim immigrants.”
“You killed six of your compatriots whose only crime was to be different than yourself,” Huot said in court.
“With your hatred and racism, you’ve ruined their lives, yours and your parents’, and the crime you’ve done deserves the greatest denunciation,” he said.
A university student at the time of the shooting, Bissonnette appeared to have been seduced by nationalist and supremacist ideologies into committing this “unjustified and deadly” massacre that sought to “undermine our fundamental societal values,” the judge said.
The attack at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center in the quiet Sainte-Foy neighborhood of Canada’s oldest city, he concluded, will go down in Canadian history “written in blood” as one of this country’s worst tragedies.
As the 246-page verdict was read over a six-hour period, Bissonnette sat quietly in the packed courtroom, gazing at his feet while his parents and several friends and family of the victims wiped tears from their eyes.

Outside the courtroom, Aymen Derbali, who was left quadriplegic in the shooting, said he was “very upset and astonished” that Bissonnette did not get more time.
“I had hoped for justice for the victims, for the people who died, and that the sentence reflected the seriousness of the crime,” he said.
“This was a very serious attack in a place of worship.”
Surrounded by members who lamented having to face Bissonnette at a parole hearing in the future and relive the tragedy, mosque president Boufeldja Benabdallah said: “We are completely stunned.”
On January 29, 2017, Bissonnette burst into the Quebec City mosque and unleashed a hail of bullets on the 40 men and four children who were chatting among themselves after evening prayers.
Security video footage showed a cold-blooded killer strategically and methodically firing dozens of shots, retreating to a safe area to reload his nine-millimeter pistol at least four times, “like he was playing a video game,” recounted one witness.
Six men were killed and five were seriously injured.
The victims were all dual nationals who emigrated to Canada over recent decades: two Algerians, two Guineans, a Moroccan and a Tunisian.
They were a scholar, a butcher, a daycare operator, a food industry worker, a public servant and a computer programmer — all connected by faith.
Introverted and educated, Bissonnette had been described after his arrest as a white supremacist opposed to Muslim immigration but not affiliated with any group.
At the start of his trial in 2017, he said he had been suicidal, “swept away by fear and by horrible despair,” and deeply regretted his “unforgivable” actions.
He also told the court he hoped for a “ray of hope at the end of the long, dark tunnel in which I lost myself on January 29.”
Survivors testified about those harrowing moments under fire and their suffering since the shooting: one leaving a trail of smeared blood on the floor while dragging himself to a hiding spot, another still feeling pain from bullet debris left in his leg after surgery.
Many said they are struggling with anxiety, including one man who said he now plots a safe exit whenever he goes out to a coffee shop or a store.


Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

Dr. Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, General Director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on July 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

  • Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people

WASHINGTON: Brain scans of about 40 US diplomats injured in mysterious circumstances in Cuba reveal visible differences compared to those in a control group, researchers who analyzed them said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by professors at the University of Pennsylvania, does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the symptoms suffered by the diplomats from late 2016 into May 2018.
But the MRIs of the patients confirm that “something happened to the brains of these people,” Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at UPenn and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“It’s not imagined,” she said. “All I can say is that there is a truth to be found.”
Verma added: “Whatever happened was not due to a pre-existing condition, because we test for that.”
From late 2016, diplomats posted in Havana and some of their family members suffered unexplained symptoms ranging from poor balance and vertigo to lack of coordination, unusual eye movements, anxiety and what victims called a “cognitive fog.”
The United States recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from the Cuban capital in September 2017.
Some of them have recovered and returned to work, but others are still undergoing rehab, according to Verma.
The US government never publicly explained the cause of the mysterious illnesses. It neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of attacks using some sort of acoustic weapon, as some US media reported, without offering proof.
Cuba has denied all responsibility for the incidents, which also affected at least 14 Canadian citizens. Ottawa also ended up recalling most of its diplomats from Havana in January.
At the request of the State Department, 44 diplomats and family members were sent from mid-2017 to UPenn’s brain trauma center to undergo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exams.
Researchers compared those results with scans from 48 comparable subjects in two control groups. The differences are statistically significant and relate to the brain’s white matter as well as the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement.
A State Department spokesman welcomed “the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department’s top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff.”
Verma said it was vital to follow the diplomats and their families over time “to see whether these changes evolve or change.”

Responding to the report, Havana again denied all responsibility in the affair.
The study by the UPenn professors “does not allow clear and final scientific conclusions to be reached,” said Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, head of the Neuroscience Center of Cuba.
Valdes-Sosa told reporters that the study “does not show, contrary to what has been speculated... that the group of diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, said that as of now “no evidence exists of any type of attack” against the US diplomats, and called on Washington to stop using that term in such an “irresponsible” way.
Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people.