The video of an attack on a Quebec City mosque that was played in a courtroom on Wednesday lasts just two minutes and 59 seconds. The images are not just a record of one of the worst mass-murders in Canadian history, but acts of bravery so numerous a stern Crown prosecutor used the word “heroic” at least three times in his narration before switching to “courageous.”
It was played to start the sentencing hearing of Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six men, seriously wounded five others among 57 worshippers before fleeing the Grand Mosque of Quebec City.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is guaranteed a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. The Crown will argue the 28-year-old should never be eligible for parole, while the defence intends to ask that he be given a chance to apply, which would be when he is 53.
The Crown is laying out evidence over the next two weeks to show basic elements of the crime, including how Mr. Bissonnette planned it. Several times as he played the video, Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques paused to note the killer’s strategic and methodical tactics, including how he retreated to a safe zone and reloaded his Glock 9 mm pistol at least four times, firing 48 shots.
But just as much time was spent on the bravery of the men and children he targeted.
The video, made up of footage from six security cameras at the mosque, starts at 7:53 p.m., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, as worshippers begin to leave after evening prayers.
Mr. Bissonnette walks up the snow-covered street carrying a guitar case. He takes out a .223 calibre semi-automatic rifle as Ibrahima Barry and Mamadou Tanou Barry walk out the door. Startled, both men scramble, slip on ice and fall. The killer pulls the trigger, Mr. Jacques explained, but the weapon did not fire.
As Mr. Bissonnette drops the rifle and reaches for the pistol under his coat, the two men rise. Ibrahima Barry raises his hands and appears to speak to the killer, who shoots and Ibrahima Barry falls. Mamadou Tanou Barry runs and is shot, too. The killer walks up to each man, shoots each once more, and walks into the mosque.
The demonstration of courage is indescribable.— Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques
Inside, three small children are playing near a wall. As chaos breaks out, a man in a red coat gathers the children and rushes them to a small anteroom.
At the height of the shooting, the killer fires 30 rounds in 30 seconds. One disoriented child in a brightly coloured coat wanders around the room as bullets fly before being dragged to safety. None of the children were injured.
Two minutes into the shooting, a man in a dark shirt bolts across the prayer room. He appears to be drawing fire. A few minutes later, a man in a grey sweatshirt runs across the entrance of the prayer area directly in the line of fire. He falls and crawls away. “You can see a high level of courage employed to try to stop Mr. Bissonnette,” Mr. Jacques said.
In the anteroom where several have sought shelter, Mr. Jacques told Superior Court Justice François Huot, Azzeddine Soufiane, a 57-year-old grocer known for his generosity, hatched a plan: It was time to rush the killer.
In the video, Mr. Soufiane bolts across the room, driving Mr. Bissonnette into a shoe rack. The killer fights him off, pushes him back and shoots him. He shoots him again while he lies on the ground. The killer reloads and shoots Mr. Soufiane some more. Others who had followed retreated and are shot off screen, Mr. Jacques said.
Mr. Soufiane is mortally wounded. The attack is nearly over.
“The demonstration of courage is indescribable,” Mr. Jacques said. “Courageous and heroic. He tries to stop this carnage himself.”
Outside, at a side entrance of the mosque, at about the time Mr. Bissonnette runs away, chased by Said Akjour, who had been shot in the shoulder, Mohamed Belkadhir is shoveling out a stairway. A couple out for a walk tell Mr. Belkadhir they heard gunfire. He runs to the front, where he paces between Ibrahima Barry and Mamadou Tanou Barry while trying to call 911. He goes into the mosque and surveys the scene before returning outside to attend to the first two victims.
He removes his coat and puts it on Mamadou. He would explain to police that Ibrahima showed no signs of life, while Mamadou was still trying to breathe.
As police approach the scene, Mr. Belkadhir, who has no idea what has happened, sees the weapons drawn and runs for his life. He is arrested and cleared a short time later. “He took the heroic gesture in all that panic and confusion of trying to keep the victim warm,” Mr. Jacques said.
Before the video was shown, the judge warned the several dozen people in the public gallery, including survivors and family members of victims, that they would be better off not watching. Along with Mr. Soufiane and the two Barrys, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane and Boubaker Thabti died in the attack.
Aymen Derbali stayed. Mr. Derbali was among the men who intentionally drew fire from the killer. He is now paralyzed. “Unlike many others, I’m able to bear witness,” Mr. Derbali said while waiting for the elevator take him in his wheelchair to the courtroom.
“I feel I should be here for those who cannot.”