Alexandre Bissonnette, here in a now deleted Facebook page, faces six counts of first-degree murder.

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Alexandre Bissonnette is shooting suspect in six deaths at Quebec City mosque

Bissonnette known online for posts inspired by French far-right views, reports say

CNN  — 

The suspect in the deadly rampage at a Quebec City mosque was known to local activists for his far-right views, according to news reports.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, allegedly walked into the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center on Sunday night during evening prayers and fired indiscriminately into the crowd of men, women and children, police said. Six men were killed in the deadly attack, one of the worst to target Muslims in a Western country.

He faces six counts of first-degree murder and five attempted murder charges, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec.

Bissonnette, a student at Laval University, lived in an apartment a few miles away from the mosque.

A Facebook group dedicated to welcoming refugees in Quebec City said Bissonnette was known online for making statements inspired by extreme right-wing French nationalists.

Bissonnette followed several profiles that espoused right-wing ideologies on his Facebook page, including that of Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of France’s National Front, according to CNN’s Canadian partner network CBC.

Suspect was unknown to police

He was a student at Laval University in Quebec City, according to the school. Bissonnette worked in a call center located at the university for Héma-Québec, a non-profit that manages blood donations in the province, according to the organization’s spokesman Laurent Paul Menord. Héma-Québec said in a press release that it was “shocked” to learn that Bissonnette was an employee.

Neighbors told CBC Bissonnette rented an apartment with his twin brother near the mosque. He was unknown to police and had not been on any watch lists, authorities said.

Bissonnette’s friends told The Globe and Mail newspaper that he became interested in politics after Le Pen visited Quebec City in March.

The paper quoted a friend, a fellow student at Laval University, who knew Bissonnette from childhood and was friends with him on Facebook.

Bissonnette is escorted to a van after appearing in court Monday.

‘Wrote him off as a xenophobe’

Vincent Boissoneault told The Globe and Mail that the two frequently argued over politics when Bissonnette attacked refugees or expressed support for Le Pen or US President Donald Trump.

“I wrote him off as a xenophobe,” Boissoneault told the newspaper. “I didn’t even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement.”

François Deschamps, an employment counselor who runs a refugee support Facebook page, told the paper he recognized Bissonnette’s photo from his frequent appearances online, including on the page he administers.

“He was someone who made frequent extreme comments in social media denigrating refugees and feminism,” Deschamps told The Globe and Mail. “It wasn’t outright hate, rather part of this new nationalist conservative identity movement that is more intolerant than hateful.”

Another Laval student, who asked not to be identified, told CNN he was in a political science course with Bissonnette.

“I was shocked when I saw his face on the media, because I recognized him immediately,” the student said.

Bissonnette “didn’t bring a notebook, just his computer. I think he was a gamer type,” the student said, adding that he seemed to have few friends.

“No one really knew him,” he said.

Man also identified as a gunman was trying to help

Bissonnette made a brief court appearance Monday. He will remain in custody until his next court appearance, set for February 21.

Authorities have not named a possible motive, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the attack as an act of terrorism.

Police initially said two gunmen attacked the mosque but later concluded that the second person was a witness.

That man, Mohamed Belkhadir was arrested and later released by police after a witness mistakenly identified him as a suspect.

The engineering student at Laval University spoke to CBC News about what he witnessed, and why he ran.

“I was outside the mosque…then I went inside to see if my brothers were okay…I found one of them near the door,” he told the network in French. “I wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead. I saw someone else who was still breathing and I gave him my coat. At the moment, I saw the shadow of someone carrying a gun…and I didn’t realize it was a police officer.”

CNN’s Julia Jones, Darran Simon, Deb Feyerick, Ann Roche, Chris Boyette and Tanika Gray contributed to this report.