Lone gunman kills monument guard, attacks Canada's Parliament
OTTAWA, Ontario — A gunman with a scarf over his face killed a Canadian soldier standing guard at the nation's war memorial Wednesday, storming Parliament in an attack that rocked the building with the boom of gunfire and forced lawmakers to barricade themselves in meeting rooms. The intruder was shot to death by the ceremonial sergeant-at-arms.
The gunman was identified as 32-year-old ex-convict Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Sources told the Toronto Globe and Mail that he was recently designated a “high-risk traveler” by the Canadian government and that his passport had been seized — the same circumstances surrounding the case of a Quebecker who ran down two Canadian Forces soldiers with his car, killing one and injuring a second.
“This week's events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. “We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”
The soldier posted at the National War Memorial, identified as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, was gunned down at point-blank range just before 10 a.m. by a man carrying a rifle and dressed all in black, his face half-covered, witnesses said.
The gunman appeared to raise his arms in triumph then made his way toward Parliament nearby.
As police rushed to the scene and civilians scrambled for cover, chaos reigned in the area known as Parliament Hill.
Dozens of shots rattled down the hallways of the seat of government.
People fled the complex by scrambling down scaffolding erected for renovations, while others took cover inside and barricaded doors with chairs as police with rifles and body armor took up positions outside and cordoned off the normally bustling streets of the capital.
On Twitter, Canada's justice minister and other government officials credited 58-year-old sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers with shooting the attacker just outside the MPs' caucus rooms. Vickers serves a largely ceremonial role at the House of Commons, carrying a scepter and wearing rich green robes, white gloves and a tall, imperial hat.
At least three people were treated for minor injuries.
In Washington, President Obama condemned the shootings as “outrageous” and said: “We have to remain vigilant.” The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa was locked down as a precaution, and security was tightened at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington.
Zehaf-Bibeau had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
Canada had raised its domestic terror threat level from low to medium Tuesday because of what it called “an increase in general chatter from radical Islamist organizations.”
The Islamic State group has urged supporters to carry out attacks against Western countries, including Canada, that are fighting the militants in Iraq and Syria. Eight Canadian fighter jets left for the region Tuesday.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, in a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, appeared to link the attack to Canada's participation in the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State group.
“My message: ‘This is why we're with you. This only makes our resolve stronger,' ” Baird tweeted about his talk with Kerry.
Police said in the initial hours after the shootings that as many as two other gunmen may have taken part. But as the day wore on, the cordon around Parliament was eased, employees were allowed to go home, and it appeared increasingly likely that the attack was the work of one person.
Court records show that a man with the same name and year of birth as the gunman was charged with robbery in Vancouver in 2011. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of uttering threats and was sentenced to a day in jail plus credit for the 66 days he had served.
Tony Zobl said he witnessed the Canadian soldier being gunned down from his fourth-floor window directly above the National War Memorial, a 70-foot, arched granite cenotaph, or tomb, with bronze sculptures commemorating World War I.
“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, twice,” Zobl told the Canadian Press news agency. “The honor guard dropped to the ground, and the shooter kind of raised his arms in triumph holding the rifle.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. had video of the gunman going to his car alone with his weapon after the shooting at the memorial. The car was later spotted parked in front of Parliament Hill, just down the block.
Cabinet minister Tony Clement tweeted that at least 30 shots were heard inside Parliament, where MPs were holding their weekly caucus meetings.
“I'm safe locked in a office awaiting security,” Kyle Seeback, another member of Parliament, tweeted.