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Quebec Mosque Attack Suspect Charged With Murder

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Canada is grappling with yesterday's brutal attack on a mosque in Quebec City. Six people died, two others are in grave condition. Officials there have charged a 27-year-old university student with murder. Police released details of their investigation as residents were gathering for a vigil to mourn the men who died. Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio joins us from the vigil. And, Brian, let's just start with an update on what we're learning about the man accused in the attack. What do you know?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: All right, his name is Alexander Bissonnette. He's 27-years-old, a university student, attends Laval University, studied anthropology and political science, French-Canadian. And the authorities believe he is the single shooter involved in this crime.

CORNISH: You mentioned that he's a French-Canadian, is there any indication of what motivated him?

MANN: It's very early days in terms of motive, but there is some indication that Bissonnette was drawn to far-right political ideas, perhaps some of the French nationalist ideas of the Le Pen movement in France. But again, police still haven't said with any conclusiveness what motivated this alleged crime.

CORNISH: Can you clarify some reporting we heard earlier today that there were two people in custody? Who is that other person? What happened?

MANN: That's right. There was a second man named early on, a Muslim individual, but police have now confirmed that that individual was taken as a witness, someone who witnessed the crime. He was not a person of interest believed to have been involved.

CORNISH: Now, what is the scene there in Quebec City tonight? I know we mentioned this vigil, how many people have come out for this?

MANN: It's massive. It's - Audie, it would be beautiful if it weren't for this reason. I've been walking through the streets. It's very deep snow here, freezing cold, and thousands of people marching silently with candles. And they're converging slowly on an old church here where they're laying flowers, people talking quietly, and people talking to me about just how upset they are that anger and fear could drive someone to a crime like this. Really, the whole city has turned out.

CORNISH: And what's been the response in other parts of Canada?

MANN: Well, it's been very much the same. I think in many ways the reaction across Canada has resembled what happened in the United States after the shooting in Charleston in 2015. The shooting in this mosque while these men were at prayer, it's really drawn the country together. Today in Ottawa Prime Minister Trudeau spoke, and here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: These people were just that - people, ordinary Canadians. They were brothers, uncles, fathers and friends.

MANN: And this has been the theme the last 24 hours, the idea that all Canadians are drawing together setting aside this idea of Muslim and really embracing Canada's fast growing Islamic community.

CORNISH: And just a few moments left there, Brian. Also, is there conversation about what's happening in the U.S. in this atmosphere?

MANN: It's a huge part of the conversation. You know, this comes on the heels of Donald Trump's announcement of sharp restrictions on refugee status for Muslims from seven countries. There was already a fierce backlash in Canada over that, and people see this all being very much a part of a larger conversation about how the West embraces people who are coming here from Muslim countries.

CORNISH: That's Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio. Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.