The similarity in the reported backgrounds of the two killers has raised fears
that “lone-wolf” extremists – possibly a cell of radical converts
in Quebec – are targeting Canadian military personnel in retaliation for the
government’s support of US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Zehaf-Bibeaus’ victim was identified as Cpl
Nathan Cirillo, 24, a reserve infantryman and young father who was part
of a two-man honour guard carrying an unloaded rifle at the war memorial.
In a chilling detail, a witness described how the gunman earlier raised his
arms in a display of triumph, a rifle in the air, after shooting Cpl Cirillo
at point blank rage in front of the cenotaph. The location for the start of
his rampage appeared horrifically symbolic as it honours the country’s war
Canada had just raised its domestic terror threat level from low to medium on
Tuesday because of “an increase in general chatter from radical
Islamist organisations”, officials said. Ottawa also this week sent six
fighter jets to the Middle East to join US-led strikes against the Islamic
State in Iraq and the Levant after a parliamentary vote.
During his rampage, Zehaf-Bibeau came alarmingly close to Stephen Harper, the
prime minister who was meeting MPs as the gunman burst into the parliament
with his gun blazing. Mr Harper was rushed from the building while other
politicians dived for cover under tables.
The Ottawa Hospital said that it received three victims of the shooting,
including Cpl Cirillo who was pronounced dead despite frantic attempts by
passers-by to save his life. The other patients, one of whom was a
parliamentary aide, were discharged by the evening.
First aiders rush to assist the solider shot outside the National War
Memorial (Daneil Thibeault/CBC/Reuters)
Kevin Vickers, the sergeant at arms, was praised by MPs for saving further
lives after he shot the gunman outside rooms packed with politicians
gathered for weekly caucus meetings.
“MPs and staff owe their safety, even lives, to Kevin Vickers, who shot
the attacker just outside the MPs’ caucus rooms,” said Craig Scott, a
New Democrat MP.
But with the centre of a Western capital under lockdown, troubling questions
were raised about security arrangements at the parliament after a gunman was
able to dash through the seat of government.
It emerged that the country’s auditor-general called two years ago for a
unified security force to protect the complex, but his recommendations were
not implemented. Michael Ferguson identified potential flaws in the current
shared system under which the area is protected by four different federal
and city forces.
The mayhem erupted at 9.50am when a car reportedly drew up at the war memorial
and a gunman stepped out. As tourists watched in horror, he shot a
ceremonial guard with what witnesses described as a high-powered rifle.
“I looked out the window and saw a shooter, a man dressed all in black
with a kerchief over his nose and mouth and something over his head as well,
holding a rifle and shooting an honor guard in front of the cenotaph
point-blank,” said Tony Zobl, 35, who witnessed the shooting from a
window overlooking the memorial.
“The honour guard dropped to the ground, and the shooter kind of raised
his arms in triumph holding the rifle.”
Police officers take cover near Parliament Hill (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Peter Henderson, a journalist, was just locking up his bike near the war
memorial when he heard gunshots. “I heard four shots from that
direction and I turned around and ran. I saw one of the soldiers laying on
the ground,” he told CNN. “There’s a ceremonial uniform they wear
and it struck me as I ran, I just saw the white gloves and I knew who he
was. It sounded like [the shots] came from a very high powered rifle.”
The attacker then made his way the short distance to the parliament building,
which was full of MPs and senators as the major parties held their weekly
caucus meetings on Wednesday morning.
Gunfire broke out shortly before 10am. Politicians and aides barricaded doors
The Conservative Party caucus room is shown with its doors barracaded
with furniture shortly after the shooting began (Reuters)
The gunman fought a running battle in the Gothic hallways with armed police
and security before he was felled in a hail of bullets. There were
unconfirmed reports of at least one more gunman running through the building
or on the roof.
Tony Clement, a cabinet minister, described the scene inside parliament on
Twitter. “Shots fired during caucus meeting,” he said. “At
least 30 shots. MPs piled out. I’m safe with 2 colleagues but we’re still at
Conservative MP Kyle Seeback also conveyed the mood after hearing the shots. “Horrific
day on parliament hill,” he said. “Shots fired inside centre block
during our caucus meeting. I’m safe locked in a office awaiting security.”
The parliament, nearby embassies, offices and schools remained in security
lockdown on Wednesday night and police told people to stay off streets and
away from windows amid reports that at least one other suspect was on the
Zehaf-Bibeau apparently had several run-ins with Canadian police in the
French-speaking province of Quebec.
Quebec court records showed three 2004 cases involving a Michael Zehaf-Bibeau,
born in 1982, Reuters reported. That year he pleaded guilty to two
drug-related offences and one charge of failing to comply with a judge’s
His mother Susan is the deputy chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board
of Canada, according to Radio Canada.
The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing government sources, said he was recently
designated a “high-risk traveller” by the Canadian government –
meaning it was feared he would travel abroad to commit crimes – and that his
passport had been seized.
Couture-Rouleau was arrested at the airport in July on his way to Turkey and
also had his passport confiscated. He was among 90 people being tracked by
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on suspicion of taking part in militant
activities abroad or planning to do so.
Just two days earlier, another recent Muslim convert killed a Canadian soldier
and injured another in a deliberate hit-and-run attack in Quebec before
being shot to death by police.
Canada recently estimated that at least 30 of its citizens were fighting with
Islamic extremist groups in Syria amid concerns about home-grown terrorist
President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack by White House national
security officials and later spoke to Mr Harper by telephone.
Washington ordered tightened security at the tomb of the unknown soldier at
Arlington national cemetery amid concerns that American military personnel
could also be targeted.
Additional reporting by David Lawler in Washington