Two “despicable attacks” on Canadian soldiers this week will not weaken the country’s resolve to fight terrorism at home and abroad, a sombre Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.
Harper addressed the nation hours after a young soldier was gunned down at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and dozens of shots fired inside Parliament ended with the shooter’s death.
The attacks in Ottawa occurred just two days after a Quebec soldier was killed in what Harper called an Islamic State-inspired attack in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, not far from Montreal. The suspect in that case was killed by police after brief chase.
Harper said more information about the “terrorist” killed in Ottawa will surface in the coming days. CTV News has confirmed that the suspect in Wednesday’s attack is Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian citizen born in 1982.
“This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” the prime minister said.
“We are also reminded that attacks on our security personnel and on our institutions of governments are by their very nature attacks on our country, on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all,” he said.
“But let there be no misunderstanding -- we will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”
Harper said the attacks will only strengthen Canada’s resolve and lead the government to “redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home.”
National Defence Minister Rob Nicholson echoed Harper in a statement issued late Wednesday, saying that Canada’s deployments in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led fight against ISIS “will continue unimpeded.”
The prime minister offered his condolences to the friends and family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the reservist who was “murdered in cold blood” Wednesday while standing guard at the war memorial. Harper also praised the passersby and first responders who tried to save his life.
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair called the shootings "a cowardly attack designed to strike at the heart of our democracy, the heart of who we are."
But he said Canadians will once again wake up in a country “blessed by love, diversity and peace.”
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau had applied for a passport, and police were doing background checks. Zehaf-Bibeau was not on the list of “high-risk travellers” being tracked by Canadian authorities, Paulson said.
Court records show that a Michael Joseph Zehaf-Bibeau was accused of robbery in Vancouver in late 2011. He was found guilty of uttering threats, a lesser charge.
Panic on the Hill
The chaos in Ottawa began around 9:52 a.m. Wednesday, when police received multiple 911 calls about a shooting at the National War Memorial.
When paramedics and police arrived, the honour guard -- later identified as Cirillo -- was on the ground, surrounded by people who tried to help him.
A short time later, the gunman entered Parliament’s Centre Block and dozens ofshots rang out as MPs, staff and reporters rushed to safety. The suspect was gunned down by Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms for the House of Commons.
Three other people were taken to the Ottawa Hospital after the shootings. They were all discharged by Wednesday evening.
Parliament Hill and Ottawa’s downtown core were under lockdown for hours after the shootings, but police have not said if other suspects were still on the loose.
Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau said residents need to stay “vigilant” and report any suspicious activity to police. But he did not directly answer questions from reporters about the possibility that another shooter -- or shooters -- were still at large.
Earlier Wednesday, Ottawa police Const. Marc Soucy said officers believe there may be more than one assailant. He said that police will be assuming that any other assailants are armed.
Tony Zobl, 35, told The Canadian Press that he witnessed the soldier being gunned down from his fourth-floor office window directly above the war memorial.
"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 honour guard in front of the Cenotaph point-blank, twice," Zobl told CP.
"It looked like the honour guard was trying to reach for the barrel of the gun. The honour guard dropped to the ground and the shooter kind of raised his arms in triumph holding the rifle."
Zobl said he then saw the shooter run up the street toward Parliament Hill.
Video captured inside Parliament showed officers filing down the empty corridor of the Hall of Honour as at least a dozen shots could be heard ringing out in the background. A security guard was reported to be injured in the shooting.
“This is a dynamic and unfolding situation,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud told a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
He said the attack caught the RCMP by surprise, but would not elaborate.
“If we had known that this was coming, we would have been able to disrupt it,” he said.
The RCMP also said it’s too early to say if the gunman was among the 90 or so suspected extremists being tracked by the Canadian government.
Reports of a third shooting inside the Rideau Centre, a shopping mall near Parliament Hill, turned out to be false, Bordeleau said.
“Today is a sad and tragic day for our city and our country,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said, adding that everyone is “looking for answers.”
The shooting comes two days after a man attacked two Canadian soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. One of those soldiers, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, died from his injuries. The suspect, Martin Couture-Rouleau, was shot and killed by police.
On Tuesday, Canada raised the domestic terror threat level from low to medium.
Security beefed up
The attack on Parliament Hill immediately prompted officials across the country to heighten security at government buildings, provincial legislatures and military bases.
Soldiers are also being cautioned about wearing their uniforms in public when they’re not on active duty.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Harper Wednesday and offered “any assistance” needed in the response to the attack, according to a tweet from the U.S. National Security Council.
Obama also expressed “the American people’s solidarity with Canada,” according to the NSC.
The president later publicly condemned the Ottawa shootings, calling them “outrageous.”
“We’re all shaken by it,” he said, adding that the U.S. is closely watching the unfolding events.
A statement from NATO’s secretary general also said that “NATO stands in solidarity with our ally Canada at this difficult time.”
With files from Marlene Leung and The Canadian Press
An earlier version of this story Wednesday incorrectly reported that Zehaf-Bibeau was on a list of “high-risk travellers” being tracked by Canadian authorities and had his passport seized.
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