OTTAWA (CUP)—In a week when national security and terrorism were already at the top of the national political agenda, Parliament Hill itself today was besieged by a gunman who shot and killed a soldier at the National War Memorial before bursting into the Centre Block, apparently bent on a rampage, before being shot and killed himself in a shootout with Hill security officials.
The dead honour guard soldier has been identified as 24-year old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist from Hamilton with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada.
The dead gunman has been unofficially identified by CBS News — citing U.S. officials — as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, born in 1982. A military analyst tweeted a unconfirmed photo of Zehaf-Bibeau, Wednesday afternoon. He claimed the tweet was from an account manned by Islamic State. The analyst would not confirm which account.
The deaths come after multiple shooting incidents paralyzed Ottawa’s downtown core for hours, with all government buildings, schools, several embassies — including those for the U.S. and Israel — and multiple city blocks thrown into lockdown. The lockdown on government buildings was reportedly lifted at 3:40 p.m.
At 9:52 a.m. Wednesday morning police received multiple 9-1-1 calls from witnesses reporting an unidentified gunman had shot a soldier at the War Memorial. The suspect then fled towards Parliament Hill, eyewitnesses said.
One witness told iPolitics about seeing a man exit a vehicle parked on Wellington carrying an object wrapped in blankets, and that at least one of them headed to the War Memorial.
“I was stopped at a red light at the corner of Wellington St. and Elgin St. … In front of me is a little brown car parked beside the war memorial with no flashers on,” said one eyewitness. “I thought it was odd because there were no flashers. A man exited the front seat and opened the back seat on the passenger side. He pulls out what looked like a pile of blankets and ran around the back of the car to the memorial. I changed lanes to avoid his car, and then saw him running back towards the car with what looked like a pipe …”
Shortly after, just before 10 o’clock, a gun battle between the shooter and Hill security erupted in the halls of Centre Block, leaving left MPs and journalists huddled in secure rooms inside the building for hours. Between 20 to 50 shots were reported by MPs and reporters on the Hill.
Reporters in Parliament’s main media room were evacuated through the roof, iPolitics reporter Elizabeth Thompson said.
The shooting took place as MPs gathered for their weekly caucus meetings, one of the busiest days in Parliament’s five-day schedule. No MP or senator was injured despite the fact that the gunplay happened in Parliament’s Hall of Honour, just feet from Conservative and NDP party caucus rooms.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was removed from the Hill, a spokesman said, and was safe. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also made it to safety.
Police have not said if the shooter at the War Memorial is the same man who was killed on Parliament Hill.
Dramatic video of the gun battle was posted by the Globe and Mail. MPs reported smelling gun powder and seeing a body lying outside the entrance to the Library of Parliament inside Centre Block. Multiple reports said the gunman was shot and killed by the sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, although neither the RCMP nor the Ottawa Police would confirm that at a press conference at RCMP headquarters Wednesday afternoon.
More than a dozen officers were on the scene at the time of the shooting with guns drawn.
Security services on Parliament Hill issued the following alert to MPs’ offices:
ALL BUILDINGS are currently in lockdown. Follow the instructions from Security Services.
THIS MEANS stay in your office, with the doors locked and away from the windows. If your door does not lock, find a way to barricade the door, if possible. *** Do not open the door under any circumstances. Security Services has the required keys.
When the Evacuation of Centre Block begins, evacuees will be directed to East Block and are to remain there until further notice from Security Services
RCMP are not saying whether the deceased suspect was a Canadian citizen or whether he had a particular target in mind when he went to the Hill. Police say they have no one in custody at this time.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud told reporters RCMP had no warning of the attack.
“If we had known that this was coming, we would have been able to prevent it,” he said, adding that it’s “important that Canadians remain vigilant” and report suspicious activity to police.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones affected by today’s incidents,” Michaud said.
“These are situations that we as police officers train for,” Michaud said. “We train our own members and we train with other police agencies. We conduct scenarios based training to cover off all types of threats including what we’ve seen in Ottawa today.”
The RCMP would not say whether the deceased shooter was one of the 90 Canadians identified as being radicalized.
Police are asking any witnesses of Wednesday’s shootings to come forward. Eyewitnesses are urged to contact the Ottawa major crimes unit at or the RCMP tip line.
Reacting to the news, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called it “a sad and tragic day for our city and our country,” pledging to not let “anger rule the day.”
The Ottawa Civic Hospital received four patients, including the soldier who died. The other three suffered minor, non-life-threatening injuries. The hospital was under heavy police guard Wednesday evening.
Military bases across the country were also locked down.
As the lockdown dragged on, MPs took to twitter to update friends and family about the situation.
“Still patiently awaiting rescue here in Centre Block,” tweeted Treasury Board President Tony Clement. “I feared this day would come, and my prayers are with the fallen soldier. Hug your fam.”
“Mom, I’m okay. I’m in hiding,” tweeted Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NOARD) would not confirmed reports that it had heightened its alert status in response to the Ottawa shootings. “NORAD is taking appropriate and prudent steps to ensure we are adequately postured to respond quickly to any incidents involving aviation in Canada,” the command said in a statement.
At the time of the shooting, Parliament’s threat level was set at medium — where they have lingered for several years. Police did not say Wednesday whether that threat level had been raised.
Earlier reports of a shooting at the Rideau Centre Mall — located in the heart of downtown Ottawa — were later dismissed by police.
An eyewitness had told iPolitics police with guns drawn pursued a suspect near the downtown Rideau Centre mall before breaking off the chase. A merchant in the mall reported the mall was completely locked down as police conducted a search there. The lockdown has since been lifted.
The prime minister is expected to make a statement on the shootings later today.