Canadian soldier killed, Parliament targeted in possible terror attack
Authorities lifted a lockdown on the core of Canada’s capital city late Wednesday, hours after a gunman shot and killed a soldier standing guard at a war memorial and gunfire erupted in the Parliament building within yards of the prime minister. Authorities said a suspect, who had been on a government watch list, was shot and killed.
The Ottawa shooting was the second fatal attack on a member of the Canadian armed forces this week, raising fears that the country was facing a terrorist assault.
On Monday, a man described as a radicalized Muslim ran down two soldiers with his car at a strip mall in Quebec, killing one of them, before leading police on a high-speed chase. The driver was later killed in a confrontation with police.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a brief statement hours after the shootings in Ottawa, describing both of this week’s attacks as “despicable” and using the word “terrorist” to describe Wednesday’s shooter.
“For the second time this week, there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil,” said Harper, speaking from an undisclosed location.
“In the days to come, we will learn about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had. But this week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the … terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere in the world.”
“Let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated,” Harper said.
He vowed to “redouble” efforts and “take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe.”
Harper provided no details about the suspect in Wednesday’s shootings. But the Globe and Mail newspaper, citing federal sources, said he was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a man in his early 30s who had recently been designated by the Canadian government as a “high-risk traveler” and had his passport seized.
Those same precautions reportedly were taken against the suspect in the Quebec killing, identified as 25-year-old Martin Couture-Rouleau, although there was no immediate indication that the two were associates.
Couture-Rouleau 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. He was stopped while trying to leave for Turkey in July and had his passport taken, authorities said. He used a picture of the Islamic State flag on his Twitter profile.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. tweeted a photo it said was of Zehaf-Bibeau, shown holding a gun and wearing an Arab-style head scarf.
Kevin Lamoureux, a Liberal Party lawmaker, said he was making his way into a caucus room when security personnel asked everyone to leave. A few seconds after he left the room, he said he heard about 20 shots fired in rapid succession.
“What hits you like a ton of bricks is how many shots were fired in such a short period of time,” he said in a telephone interview. “If you hear one or two shots, that’s one thing. But if it’s bang-bang-bang-bang and it’s continuing on, you get the sense that, boy, something serious is going on.
“You didn’t necessarily know where to look because it’s so loud,” he said. “Is it coming from behind? Down the hall? Around the corner? I couldn’t tell.”
Canada announced this month that it was joining the United States in the battle against Islamic State militants, who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.
President Obama spoke by phone with Harper to “express the American people’s solidarity with Canada” and offer any assistance the country might need.
“Obviously the situation there is tragic,” Obama later told reporters, adding, “We’re all shaken by it.”
“We don’t yet have all of the information about what motivated the shooting,” he said. “We don’t yet have all of the information about whether this is part of a broader network or plan, or whether this was an individual or series of individuals who decided to take these actions.”
Harper had been addressing members of his Conservative Party in a caucus room in the Parliament building when there was “a huge boom, followed by rat-a-tat shots. We all scattered. It was clearly right outside our caucus door,” Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement told the Reuters news agency. The prime minister’s office said that he was safe and had left Parliament Hill.
It was not immediately clear whether the suspect acted alone. Police were told that two or three shooters may have been involved in the attack at the National War Memorial, Constable Chuck Benoit said. Authorities cordoned off the area and began a systematic search, urging residents within the security perimeter to stay inside.
“This is a dynamic and unfolding situation,” said Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud, commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police national division.
Shortly before 8:30 p.m., police issued a statement saying the security perimeter had been lifted and there was no longer a threat to public safety in the area. But the statement said police operations continued on Parliament Hill, which remained off limits.
Police said they received multiple 911 calls at 9:52 a.m. about the shooting at the National War Memorial. Witnesses said at least one gunman fired at the soldier, then ran up the street toward Parliament Hill.
“Guys, there’s a shooter on the loose!” one security guard hollered in video from the scene.
“He was wearing blue pants and a black jacket and he had a double-barreled shotgun and he ran up the side of this building here and hijacked a car at gunpoint,” construction worker Scott Walsh told Reuters.
He said the driver got out safely and that the man then drove to the Center Block on Parliament Hill, a sprawling complex that houses the House of Commons and Senate as well as numerous offices.
Another construction worker told CTV that he too heard the shots and saw the gunman get into a car.
“I thought it was fireworks going off,” Matthew Blais said. “It was crazy. Everyone was running around. There were people on the ground. It was just something that you don’t believe will ever happen, and it happened right in front of my eyes.”
The soldier at the memorial, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, was given emergency aid at the scene and put in an ambulance but died of his injuries, police and military officials said.
The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus said it treated three people for minor injuries. All were released.
Canadian news outlets described Cirillo as a 24-year-old reservist from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment who was serving in Hamilton, Ontario.
One of his friends, Marie Michele, told CBC News that she recognized him in television video of paramedics trying to save his life. “Nathan was a good man. He would give anything to anyone,” she said. “He was there for everyone.”
Soldiers guarding the memorial carry rifles that aren’t loaded, CBC News said.
Defense officials said they were evaluating the need for additional security measures at armed forces installations in the capital and elsewhere in Canada.
“This event, coupled with Monday’s tragedy in Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu which resulted in the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, is a loss which saddens us all,” Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the Canadian Defense Staff, said in a statement. “Yet we remain undeterred in our mission to protect Canada and Canadians.”
Soon after the shooting at the memorial, gunfire was heard in the Parliament building, where both Conservative and Liberal members were holding their weekly caucus meetings.
The Globe and Mail newspaper posted video showing police advancing with guns drawn as loud bangs echoed through a hallway. A CTV reporter tweeted a photograph of lawmakers barricading the door to their caucus room with furniture.
Journalists and lawmakers inside the building credited the sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers, with shooting the gunman. But police officials would not confirm how the suspect died, saying the investigation was underway.
Reports of a third shooting incident at a nearby shopping mall proved to be inaccurate, police said. Officers rushed to secure the affected buildings and move occupants to safety.
A tweet from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police advised people in downtown Ottawa to stay away from windows and off roofs.
Police and military buildings around the country were closed to the public as a precaution Wednesday along with the constituent offices of parliament members. Schools and numerous other buildings in the area were on lockdown.
At the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, doormen, guests and anyone else outside the hotel’s doors were ushered inside and told not to leave.
“It was all very, very quick,” said the hotel’s public relations manager, Deneen Perrin. “Everybody was very calm. Everybody remained calm. We kept on letting people know that everyone was safe inside.”
Times staff writers Zavis and Mai-Duc reported from Los Angeles, Susman from New York and Hennigan from Ottawa. Christi Parsons in Washington contributed to this report. For more international news, follow @alexzavis, @cmaiduc, @tinasusman and @wjhenn on Twitter
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