Harper Says Canada Isn’t Intimidated by Terror AttackTheophilos Argitis, Andrew Mayeda and Greg Quinn
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called yesterday’s shootings in Ottawa a terrorist attack and said the nation won’t be intimidated as it redoubles efforts to fight such threats at home and abroad.
Violence in the nation’s capital yesterday included a shootout in the main legislature building and the gunning down of a soldier guarding the country’s war memorial. Stores and office buildings downtown were sealed after the unprecedented attack, raising terrorism concerns nationwide.
“Canada will never be intimidated,” Harper said in a televised address last night. “We will learn more about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had,” Harper said.
Harper earlier this month authorized air strikes against Islamic State militants, and fighter jets left this week to start their mission. The shootings came two days after the murder of a soldier in a mall parking lot by a “radicalized” man near Montreal.
Police prevented some people from leaving their buildings around the legislative district as Harper spoke, about 10 hours after the first shots were fired. The prime minister didn’t directly link the shootings to any organized group or give any possible motive for the attack.
The gunman was known as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, according to a U.S. law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The shooter was killed by parliamentary security officials. Members of parliament credited Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, who heads security at Canada’s parliament, as stopping the gunman.
Security operations were continuing at Parliament Hill, Ottawa police said in an e-mailed statement at about 8:30 p.m. as they lifted a security perimeter around the downtown core. The RCMP said Parliament Hill was clear of all security threats about an hour later.
Witnesses said a man with a long, dark coat was seen shortly before 10 a.m. at the National War Memorial carrying a rifle. He killed a soldier identified as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the site before fleeing toward Parliament Hill. A few minutes later, at least a dozen shots were fired inside the parliament buildings close to where lawmakers were meeting.
Harper said Cirillo was killed “in cold blood” as part of “despicable attacks.”
“This day has been tremendously difficult,” Harper said. “Together we will remain vigilant” against threats, he said.
Canadian-born Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, had a history of drug and robbery charges and had recently converted to Islam, according to newspaper reports yesterday. He was known to authorities and had his passport seized because he was considered a high-risk traveler, according to the Globe and Mail. Sherley Goodgie, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, declined to comment on the suspect’s identity.
Hours after the shootings, police wearing balaclavas and flak jackets and carrying assault rifles were patrolling an area that stretches at least five blocks from Parliament Hill. Dozens of workers streamed by foot southward from Parliament Hill after being let out of their offices.
The U.S. embassy in Ottawa was in lockdown and all personnel have been accounted for, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington yesterday. Secretary of State John Kerry had been briefed on the situation and the movement of embassy staff was being restricted as a precautionary measure, she said.
“We’re in lockdown,” Karl Belanger, spokesman for the New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, said in a mid-afternoon telephone interview yesterday from the parliament building, where he was waiting with about a dozen party staff for the lockdown to be lifted. “I looked outside my window and saw the RCMP deploying, about 30 cruisers.”
“What I saw was one person shot,” said Yan Legtenvorg, a tourist from Holland who was at the war memorial. He ran “to Parliament Hill with his rifle in his hand. Small guy with long black hair. We heard four shots and we saw the guy running away with a long rifle.”
Another witness, Raivo Nommik, said “I was walking back. I heard the first shot and turned around and I thought at first it was just ceremonial. Then I just saw the guy with the rifle. The second soldier there running and he ran over one of the walls here and I just ducked down behind the wall.”
Cirillo is the second Canadian Forces member to be killed this week. Two days earlier, two soldiers were hit by a car in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, a town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Montreal. One of them died later. The driver, who authorities say had been “radicalized,” was shot by police after a car chase and the government said the attack was linked to “terrorist ideology.”
During Parliamentary debates this month about whether to take military action against Islamic State militants in Iraq, Harper said the threat from the group “is explicitly directed, in part, against this country.”
Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau declined to comment on how many suspects there may be. The FBI offered its assistance to Canadian investigators and sent a reminder to its field officers to stay on alert “in light of recent calls for attacks against government personnel by terrorist groups and like-minded individuals.”
The Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index dropped almost 14 points in the 10-minute period when the first headline said shots were fired in Ottawa. It fell a further 60 points in the next 10 minutes. It declined 1.6 percent yesterday, the most since June 2013.
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz postponed a press conference yesterday in Ottawa to discuss the bank’s rate announcement and monetary policy report. He also postponed planned appearances yesterday and today before the Commons and Senate finance and banking committees.
Parliament will convene at 10 a.m. today, the usual time, Industry Minister James Moore posted on Twitter last night, saying “our democracy cannot and will not be intimidated.”
“We were hiding under the tables,” said lawmaker Rosane Dore Lefebvre. “Everyone was in shock. When we got out of the caucus room, you could smell the odor of the gunpowder.”