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Canadian PM: ‘Terrorist’ Responsible for Deadly Ottawa Shootings

This post was updated. Speaking to his nation Wednesday night, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blamed a deadly shooting at parliament that killed a Canadian soldier and wounded three others hours earlier on terrorism. The prime minister did not ascribe motive to the Parliament Hill attack, but he did tie the shooting to an "ISIL-inspired" ...

Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images
Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images

This post was updated.

Speaking to his nation Wednesday night, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blamed a deadly shooting at parliament that killed a Canadian soldier and wounded three others hours earlier on terrorism. The prime minister did not ascribe motive to the Parliament Hill attack, but he did tie the shooting to an "ISIL-inspired" incident in Quebec on Monday where one soldier was killed and another injured when they were run down by a man with declared sympathies for Islamic extremism.

"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," said Harper. The prime minister stressed that the week’s events would not deter Ottawa from participating in the U.S.-led coalition fighting militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq.

"This will lead us to strengthen our resolve and 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 – just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores.”

Information has begun to materialize about the alleged assailant that killed Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo at the national War Memorial and was then shot dead in a gunfight in the halls of the parliament building. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was a 32-year-old convert to Islam with a well-documented criminal record. Canada’s Global News reported that Zehaf-Bibeau was charged in Feb. 2004 for possession of marijuana and possession of PCP. He pleaded guilty to both charges in Dec. 2004 and served two months of prison time. Zehaf-Bibeau also served time for a parole violation in Mar. 2004, was convicted of marijuana possession again in 2009, and was charged with robbery in 2011.

Zehaf-Bibeau was reportedly recently designated a "high-risk traveller" and had his passport seized by Canadian authorities when they learned that he planned to go fight overseas, a U.S. law enforcement official told CNN’s Susan Candiotti. The suspect in Monday’s terror-linked attack in Quebec, Martin Couture-Rouleau, also had his passport seized and is suspected of being an extremist with possible terrorist links.

A tight police perimeter still surrounds Canadian parliament after it was placed on lockdown, but barricades throughout downtown Ottawa have now been removed. Police have still not provided any further details on earlier reports of another suspect in the attack, but Ottawa Police did confirm that no shooting occurred near the Rideau Centre, contrary to earlier reports.

Last week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned that Canada could find itself in the Islamic State’s crosshairs. On Tuesday, Canadian authorities raised the terrorism threat level from low to medium, citing online chatter from radical groups about targeting Canada.

The incident in Ottawa began at approximately 10 a.m. local time when a gunman armed with a rifle shot a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial. After shooting the soldier, the gunman made the short run from the memorial to Parliament Hill, where he entered the parliament building and a gunfight with security personnel broke out. The gunfight was partially captured by Globe and Mail journalist Josh Wingrove. During the exchange the shooter was reportedly shot by parliament’s sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers.

Members of Parliament and senators typically meet on Wednesday mornings and were present in the building while the attack took place. Canadian Prime Minister Harper was moved, along with other senior officials, to undisclosed, safe locations following the attack, but have since been seen on television.

The attack comes as Canada has ramped up its role in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, though it remains unclear whether the attack has any connection with these recent decisions. Canada has sent 26 special forces troops to Iraq to serve in an advisory role, and on Oct. 7 Parliament voted in favor of joining U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

In late September, a video released by the Islamic State’s spokesperson, Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani urged the group’s supporters to kill Canadians and commit domestic attacks on Canadian territory.

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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