Aymen Derbali sat in a wheelchair and described how seven bullets destroyed his life − his words delivered with poignancy to a judge, to lawyers, to a hushed courtroom, and to the 28-year-old killer who sat only a few metres away.
Mr. Derbali addressed the court during a sentencing hearing for Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths of six men at a Quebec City mosque last year. As Mr. Derbali spoke, his words detailing how he’d become paralyzed and unable to hold his own children, Mr. Bissonnette sat to his right, watching from a glassed-in enclosure.
Mr. Derbali says he wakes up in the morning thinking the entire shooting was a nightmare. “But it wasn’t a nightmare,” he told the court, “it was real.”
It was a moment of emotion and drama in a day that offered a fuller portrait of the gunman in the mosque shooting, which shocked Canadians for its violence targeting a religious minority. It is the picture of someone who not only deliberately opened fire in a mosque, wounding Mr. Derbali and several others. For the first time, the court heard that Mr. Bissonnette fully recalled his actions the night of the shooting and confided to a social worker that he wished he had killed more people.
And in the year prior to the shooting, Mr. Bissonnette had relentlessly fed his obsessions about Islam, firearms, mass killers and feminism through the internet.
He followed the Twitter feed of U.S. President Donald Trump, reading news and screening videos about the President on a daily basis. He also followed news about the Muslim travel ban that Mr. Trump ordered two days before Mr. Bissonnette carried out his armed attack.
He visited news sites and Twitter feeds of right-wing commentators south of the border. On the day of the attack, he had been consulting Breitbart News, the conservative news website.
The contents of Mr. Bissonnette’s laptop, analyzed by an RCMP officer, were presented by the Crown as the court weighs when, if ever, the killer would be eligible for parole.
The analysis reveals a man dwelling compulsively on themes of weapons and mass shootings. Notorious killers appear on his online history hundreds of times, including searches on Justin Bourque, who killed three Mounties in Moncton, and Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who slaughtered nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
He also did searches related to Marc Lépine, who shot and killed 14 women at a Montreal engineering school in 1989.
Police delving Mr. Bissonnette’s online activity found searches on two women’s groups at Laval University, where Mr. Bissonnette had been a student. The groups are Féministes en Mouvement de l’Université Laval and Comité Femmes de l’Université Laval.
There were other surprising disclosures on Monday, as Mr. Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing entered its second week. In contrast to his confession to police in which he expressed concern about his victims, Mr. Bissonnette told a social worker in jail last year that he fully remembered the attack and wished he’d killed more people.
“It’s not true that I don’t remember, I remember everything,” he confided to the social worker, Guylaine Cayouette. He said that he heard people in the mosque shouting “Allah” as he unloaded his pistol, and he remembered shooting a victim in the head.
He recalled how a man, presumably Azzeddine Soufiane, grabbed his arm to try to stop him. He killed him.
“I regret not having killed more people. The victims are in heaven, and I’m living through hell,” he said to the social worker.
He told Ms. Cayouette that he had idolized mass killers since adolescence, and had wanted to carry out a shocking gesture himself. Ms. Cayouette described Mr. Bissonnette as calm, coherent and articulate during the exchange.
Mr. Bissonnette’s father, for his part, couldn’t believe his son was a suspect in the shooting and believed there had been a misunderstanding. In an interview with police the day after the Jan. 29 attack, Raymond Bissonnette said his son had behaved normally the day of the crime.
Asked about whether his son had a girlfriend, Mr. Bissonnette replied that he didn’t, and this was tough for his son. He had trouble meeting women and suffered from “lack of self-esteem,” his father said.
The day ended, however, with Mr. Derbali, the first person to deliver a victim-impact statement to the court. He was shot at the mosque as he deliberately stood in the line of fire to distract Mr. Bissonnette, actions that Superior Court Justice François Huot described from the bench as an “incredible demonstration of courage.”
Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques said that in video taken from one of the cameras inside the mosque, Mr. Derbali can be seen “very courageously and heroically” trying to stop the shooter. He was one of the first worshippers to try to do so, Mr. Jacques said.
After rolling up in his wheelchair and taking his place before the judge, Mr. Derbali struggled to move his weakened hand to swear on the Koran. He said he regrets he will never be able to play soccer with his son again, and has to cope with “intolerable pain” from his injuries. He thinks of the men who were killed and the children who will never see their fathers.
“I thought of all my brothers who left 17 orphans behind,” he said. “They didn’t have this chance that I did to see my children again.”
The sentence hearing continues.