A soldier guarding Canada’s National War Memorial was killed in Ottawa on Wednesday before a gunfight broke out in the nation’s parliament. Presumably the same gunman was shot dead by security in the exchange of fire while parliamentarians were minutes away from concluding their weekly caucus meetings in the same building.
Witnesses said they heard dozens of gunshots in the Center Block building where Canada’s House of Commons and Senate meet. A video recorded by a reporter for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading liberal newspaper, showed heavy fire in the building’s central Hall of Honor where a law enforcement official was shot in the leg. Lawmakers and cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were only meters removed from the scene, meeting with their parties behind closed doors.
Parliament was immediately locked down and lawmakers and their staff were asked not to leave their offices or chambers. Harper was able to leave safely, his office said, while legislators barricaded the entrances to their caucus rooms with chairs and tables.
Earlier in the morning, eyewitnesses saw an armed man emerge at the National War Memorial and fire about four times before one of the two guards on duty went down. The gunman then drove up to Parliament Hill, situated across the street.
CBS News identified the gunman as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian national of mixed Libyan descent. Canadian authorities were reported to have been in contact about him with the American FBI. American sources told the Reuters news agency the shooter was born Michael Joseph Hall but changed his name to Zehaf-Bibeau after converting to Islam.
Domenic Fazioli, a reporter for Global News, discovered that a Zehaf-Bibeau had been arrested five times while living in Montreal in 2004, three times for drugs possession and twice for not respecting the conditions of his parole. He spent 61 days in prison there. Canada’s CBC News later found out he had also been a suspect in a robbery investigation in Vancouver seven years later and spent one day in jail in British Columbia for making threats.
The victim of the memorial shooting was taken to hospital and died of his injuries. He was identified as Corporal Nathan Cirillo, an army reservist.
Police established security perimeters around downtown Ottawa in the afternoon and the area remained in lockdown into the early night when people were first left out of the parliament buildings.
The shooting came just two days after an Islamic convert and jihadist sympathizer ran down two Canadian soldiers with his car in Quebec, killing one. He was later shot and killed by police.
The incident and what authorities described as a rise in “general chatter” from radical Islamist groups prompted Canada to raise its national terrorism threat level from low to medium on Tuesday.