In the immediate aftermath of the Quebec City shooting that left six people dead at a mosque and another 19 people wounded, it was reported that two suspects had been taken into custody.
Though police did not immediately reveal their names, media reports suggested the men were a French Canadian and a man born in Morocco. However, police confirmed on Monday that there was only one suspect, the French Canadian, and the man of Moroccan origin, Mohamed Belkhadir, had been released without charge and was actually a witness.
Soon after police clarified the French-Canadian, Alexandre Bissonnette, was the only suspect, Fox News sent out a tweet suggesting there was only one suspect — Belkhadir. The tweet did not mention Bissonnette, a man who reportedly supports Donald Trump and the far right while holding anti-immigrant views.
Fox News faced widespread criticism after spreading incorrect information about the Quebec City shooting, especially after police had clarified there was only one witness. One of the most vocal critics of the incorrect report was the office of Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Kate Purchase, director of communications for the office, sent a letter raising objections to the tweet, according to The Guardian, in a move that forced Fox News to apologize and retract the misinformation.
Purchase said the tweet remained visible on the Fox News Twitter account hours after it was clear Bissonnette, who faces six charges of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder, was the only suspect in the Quebec City shooting, even though Fox News had corrected the story that the tweet linked to. The tweet continued to accrue retweets and likes, further spreading the incorrect information.
In the letter, Purchase requested that Fox News update or retract the tweet to accurately report that Bissonnette was the suspect and not Belkhadir.
“These tweets by Fox News dishonour the memory of the six victims and their families by spreading misinformation, playing identity politics and perpetuating fear and division within our communities. […] We need to remain focused on keeping our communities safe and united instead of trying to build walls and scapegoat communities. To paint terrorists with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant – it is irresponsible.
“If we allow individuals and organizations to succeed by scaring people, we do not actually end up any safer. […] Fear does not make us safer. It makes us weaker. Ramping up fear and closing our borders is not a solution.”
Fox News eventually apologized for the error and deleted the tweet.
Belkhadir said he spent the night in custody after the Quebec City shooting due to a misunderstanding. He was outside clearing snow from the mosque’s steps when he heard gunfire. He called 911 and entered the mosque after the gunfire ended.
However, as he was tending to a friend inside the mosque, he glimpsed a man with a gun, and he thought it was the shooter when in fact it was a police officer. Belkhadir instinctively fled and only realized what had happened when officers forced him to the ground. Though police determined he was a witness to the attack within hours, his name and origin had already been widely linked to the attack.
Three of the people who died in the Quebec City shooting will have a public funeral service in Montreal this week.
The mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, announced the news on Twitter.
Coderre said the service would be held for Hassane Abdelkrim, Khaled Belkacemi, and Aboubaker Thabti at Maurice-Richard Arena in Montreal’s Olympic Park, perhaps in part because Quebec City does not have a Muslim cemetery. Coderre said there would be prayers for the three other victims who died in the attack.
According to the CBC, some victims were expected to have funerals overseas, although it is not yet clear where the other victims will be buried. Following the attack, the Eiffel Tower turned off its lights as a mark of respect for the victims.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Press reported that the mosque reopened Wednesday morning, three days after the Quebec City shooting. Mosque vice-president Mohamed Labidi reopened it to let the public see what the victims faced. Walls had bullet holes, and there was blood on many surfaces, including on the stairs leading to the basement.
[Featured Image by Francois Mori/AP Images]