Here Are All The Hoaxes And Other Misinformation That Spread After The Quebec Shooting

The lone suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, is now in custody.

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In the chaotic hours after a deadly mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, false information about who was behind the violence spread like wildfire on social media.

Francis Vachon / THE CANADIAN PRESS

As police and news media scrambled to respond, early reports claimed that two shooters had entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec and opened fire on worshippers. Police later confirmed they only have one suspect, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette.

On Reddit's main Canadian forum, a commenter claimed to have heard two suspects identified on police radio as "Bashir al-Taweed and Hassan Matti, Syrians who entered Canada as refugees last week."

Reddit

Police radio chatter is notoriously unreliable in such situations, as police exchange raw information that often proves to be wrong or incomplete.

This comment appears to be the only source of this claim, and there is no evidence that police ever investigated such a lead. The Reddit user who posted it did not reply to questions from BuzzFeed News.

Screenshots of the unverified Reddit comment soon ricocheted around the internet.

Twitter

Prominent alt-right figures like Lauren Southern shared the false claim on Twitter, where others took it up.

Anti-Muslim blogs and Facebook pages seized on the false information and helped propagate it further.

Facebook

To be clear, there is no evidence whatsoever that police ever suspected two Syrian refugees in the shooting, and it's unclear where those two names came from other than a single unverified Reddit comment.

Meanwhile, a different lie was spreading on Twitter. A parody Reuters account, which has since been suspended, said two white supremacists were responsible for the shooting.

Twitter/@stillgray

Davis Aurini and Matt Forney are bloggers affiliated with the men's rights movement.

Prominent anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller jumped on the confusion to claim that "the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim as is generally the case in these circumstances."

There was more confusion after Quebec police announced that only one of the men being detained was a suspect. Initial reports claimed Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed Belkhadir were both suspects. But police later released Belkhadir after determining he was a witness.

Twitter/@CBCNews

When the police said Bissonnette was the only shooter, most news media deleted their tweets and updated their reports.

Bissonnette and Belkhadir were first identified as suspects by TVA, based on anonymous police sources who spoke with the Quebec-based TV station. Other outlets followed. (Belkhadir's name was given as Mohamed Khadir in initial reports.)

But not all media treated the new information the same way. Fox News left an old tweet online that said the attacker "was of Moroccan origin." They replied to it with new information and updated the associated article, but the tweet is still being cited.

Twitter/@FoxNews

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's director of communications, Kate Purchase, later sent an official complaint to Fox News.

"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," Purchase said.

Because police sources initially named Belkhadir as a suspect, many people pushed unfounded theories about a jihadi attack or, perhaps, internecine violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

But as subsequent reporting later made clear, Belkhadir was actually one of the heroes of the night who called 911 and tried to help the wounded even while the actual shooter was still on the loose.

“I was trying to give first aid to my friend who was on the ground," the 29-year-old university student told reporters after being released from jail. When he thought he saw someone with a gun, however, he fled.

"I got scared. It was an image of a man who had a gun. I didn’t know it was a police officer. I thought it was a shooter who had come back."

But even though Belkhadir was cleared by police, some media outlets continued to cast suspicion on him.

One of the Canadian media outlets still questioning Mohamed Belkhadir's innocence is TheRebel.Media, which also bought the domain QuebecTerror.com shortly after the shooting.

Rebel reporter Faith Goldy went to a vigil in Quebec City and asked people there whether they were "worried that there was another suspect" long after Belkhadir's release.

The Rebel further muddied the waters when it published a post and video about the supposed "bitter rivalry" between the affected mosque and another one nearby, even though this had nothing to do with the shooter.

The Rebel / Via therebel.media

The site's two videos on the Quebec shooting have been viewed over 40,000 times.

Tarek Fatah, a columnist for the Toronto Sun tabloid, went so far as to say Belkhadir was an accomplice who was being shielded by police. His tweets still haven't been deleted.

Twitter/@TarekFatah

Alexandre Bissonnette, the only suspect in the case, appeared in court Monday and was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm.

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Jane Lytvynenko at jane.lytvynenko@buzzfeed.com.

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