Montreal, Quebec – A Canadian man who stormed a Quebec City mosque last year and shot and killed six Muslim worshipers has pleaded guilty to the charges against him.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, had pleaded not guilty previously this week, but formally changed that plea in a Quebec City courtroom on Wednesday.
“I’m ashamed of what I did,” Bissonnette said in court as he read a written statement, Canadian media reported.
“I would like to ask for forgiveness for all the pain I’ve caused you,” he said, referring to the victims and their families, “but I know that my actions are unforgivable.”
Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in relation to the attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on January 29, 2017.
Six men were killed, five others critically wounded, and a total of 19 people suffered injuries in the attack, which took place shortly after evening prayers.
Aymen Derbali, a now-paralysed father of three who has been described as a “hero” after he drew the attacker’s attention on himself and was shot several times, was in the courtroom on Wednesday, the Globe and Mail reported.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, an advocacy group, said it was “extremely relieved” by the guilty plea.
“It spares the survivors, families and [Quebec City mosque] community from having to relive the horrific attack during what would have been [a] long and excruciating trial,” the group said on Twitter.
At the time of the shooting, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, called it a “terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge”.
But Bissonnette was never charged with “terrorism” or any “terrorism-related” offences.
Reversing his plea
Bissonnette pleaded not guilty on Monday morning, but reversed that decision by the afternoon, Radio-Canada reported.
“I’ve chosen to plead guilty. In my heart, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I want to plead guilty to all the charges to avoid a trial … to avoid having the victims and the families relive the tragedy,” he said, according to local newspaper Le Journal de Quebec.
The judge in the case instituted a publication ban on the proceedings shortly thereafter and ordered Bissonnette to undergo a psychological assessment.
The judge formally accepted his guilty plea on Wednesday.
A first-degree murder conviction comes with a mandatory life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
If served consecutively, the judge told Bissonnette on Wednesday, he could theoretically spend 150 years in prison, Radio-Canada reported.