Paramedics and the police rushed a victim from the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa on Wednesday. A soldier standing guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier was fatally shot.Credit Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
OTTAWA — The heart of the Canadian capital was thrown into panic and placed in lockdown on Wednesday after a gunman armed with a rifle or shotgun fatally wounded a corporal guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier at the National War Memorial, entered the nearby Parliament building and fired multiple times before he was shot and killed.
It was the second deadly assault on a uniformed member of Canada’s armed forces in three days. The Ottawa attack heightened fears that Canada, a strong ally of the United States in its campaign against the Islamic State militant group convulsing the Middle East, had been targeted in a reprisal, either as part of an organized plot or a lone-wolf assault by a radicalized Canadian.
Law enforcement authorities in Washington said their Canadian counterparts had identified the assailant as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who had changed his name from Michael Joseph Hall, and said he had been a convert to Islam. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said he had a criminal history of offenses that included robbery and drug possession.
Downtown Ottawa, ordinarily bustling on a workday, was both shut down and traumatized as police officers rushed to secure the Parliament building, move occupants to safety and hunt for what they initially said could be two or three assailants. The lockdown at Parliament dragged into the evening, when armed officers began herding people who had been confined all day into city buses, but the emergency was not lifted.
At a news conference, the Ottawa Police Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police declined to specify how many more gunmen, if any, they might be seeking, adding to the foreboding in the city, where anxiety ran so high that a National Hockey League game was postponed. The police told reporters that the situation was “dynamic and unfolding.”
The soldier died at a hospital, and the gunman was killed inside the Parliament building, Chief Charles Bordeleau of the Ottawa Police said. The soldier was identified as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a member of the army reserves from Hamilton, Ontario. Chief Bordeleau said that two people, whom he did not name, were injured, although not seriously.
The shootings came amid heightened concern among Canadians about terrorist attacks. Two days earlier, a radical jihadist ran over two soldiers at a strip mall in a city south of Montreal, killing one of them.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an outspoken critic of the Islamic State movement and other militant groups, had been expected to introduce new antiterrorism legislation on Wednesday. “We will not be intimidated,” Mr. Harper said in a television address Wednesday night. He linked the attacks to radicalism inspired by the Islamic State and called them “despicable.”
As members of Parliament gathered for their weekly caucus meetings in the Parliament buildings on Wednesday morning, much of the city was looking forward to the hockey game here between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. Then everything suddenly changed.
At 9:52 a.m., calls flooded into Ottawa’s 911 system to report a shooting at the war memorial, which sits isolated southwest of Parliament Hill in a square ringed by busy roads. Television images showed passers-by trying to revive Corporal Cirillo before an ambulance arrived. His service rifle lay by his side.
Afterward, a video image taken from a dashboard camera and obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation showed the gunman getting into a car behind the war memorial.
Although motor vehicles cannot drive onto Parliament Hill, a complex of three buildings surrounding a vast lawn used for national celebrations, without passing through a security inspection, there are numerous, unguarded pedestrian access points.
After dealing with reporters who had buttonholed members of Parliament as they entered their meetings, Greta K. Levy, the New Democratic Party’s caucus press secretary, and a colleague headed out to her office by way of the large, brass doors at the base of the Peace Tower that dominates the center block of Parliament.
“We heard someone yelling ‘gun! gun!’ and we flattened ourselves down on the top of a step,” Ms. Levy said Wednesday evening. After it seemed nothing had occurred, Ms. Levy looked up to find herself staring at a man walking calmly and carrying a rifle or a shotgun aimed forward at his hips.
“He was clearly looking in our general direction — we were two or three feet away — I don’t know at what,” Ms. Levy said. “I didn’t notice anything in his eyes, nothing in his expression.”
Seconds after the gunman disappeared into the building, Ms. Levy said loud, prolonged gunfire broke out. A tourist crouched beside them, she said, bursting into tears and saying that her children were inside.
The three eventually fled across the lawn toward Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruisers.
Inside the building, the situation was confused. Numerous people told reporters that they had initially thought there might be a fire.
A video taken by a reporter for The Globe and Mail showed a number of House of Commons and Senate guards pursuing someone down Parliament’s marble-lined Hall of Honor toward the Library of Parliament, a separate building attached at the rear. Repeated shooting can be heard on its audio.
In the Conservative caucus room, which exits into the Hall of Honor, members of Parliament piled their large leather chairs against the door as a barricade.