Canada shooting suspect Islam convert

The gunman, thought to be Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, in a photo released by Canadian media.
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The gunman, thought to be Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, in a photo released by Canadian media.

Dressed in black and with a scarf covering his face, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is the man believed to have killed a soldier point-blank and then opened fire in a parliamentary building in Canada's capital city.

More details have emerged about the 32-year-old suspected gunman who sent Ottawa into lockdown on Wednesday morning local time.

While police have not confirmed the man's identity, sources have told Canada's Globe And Mail, Reuters and Associated Press that the main suspect was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

Police officers take cover near Parliament Hill following the shooting.
Reuters

Police officers take cover near Parliament Hill following the shooting.

According to Canada's Globe and Mail, his father Bulgasem Zehaf was a Quebec businessman who appears to have fought in Libya in 2011. His mother Susan was deputy chairwoman of a division of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board.

The suspected gunman, Zehaf-Bibeau, was reportedly born Michael Joseph Hall but changed his name, sources said.

He is a Canadian convert to Islam whose passport had been seized by authorities, federal sources say. 

David Bathurst, a friend who met Zehaf-Bibeau at a mosque three years ago, said he was obsessed with "shaytan", an Arabic term meaning devils and demons.  

Bathurst told the Globe and Mail that his friend had "erratic" behaviour and was asked to stop attending prayers at the mosque after upsetting religious elders.

"We were having a conversation in a kitchen, and I don't know how he worded it: He said the devil is after him," David Bathurst told the publication. "I think he must have been mentally ill."

Bathurst said the last time he saw Zehaf-Bibeau was at a Vancouver mosque six weeks ago, he was planning to go back to Libya to study Islam and Arabic.

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But Zehaf-Bibeau's travel plans are believed to have been quashed. The Globe and Mail newspaper said he was recently designated a "high-risk traveller" by the Canadian government - meaning it was feared he would travel abroad to commit crimes - and that his passport had been seized.

In fact, Zehaf-Bibeau had a long history of run-ins with police. He had been arrested for drug possession, credit-card fraud and robbery.

Vancouver lawyer Brian Anderson, who acted for Zehaf-Bibeau in 2011, said he was charged with robbing someone and it was something "fairly minor and fairly bizarre" to which he pleaded guilty. 

He is believed to have been born in Quebec but had a history of moving around in recent years, including a stop in Vancouver. 

A picture released by Canadian media purports to show Zehaf-Bibeau during the shootings. The man in the picture has shoulder-length black hair, is wearing a black and white chequered scarf around his face and is holding a firearm. 

Dashcam footage sent to CBC by a witness also appears to show the gunman getting into an illegally parked car with no licence plate. He appears to be carrying a long, dark object. The time stamp of the video matches the same time police started receiving 911 calls. 

Zehaf-Bibeau is believed to have shot and killed 24-year-old Nathan Cirillo while he stood guard at an Ottawa war memorial.

"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."

The gunman then made his way into the country's main legislature across the street and opened fire, before being shot dead by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers. 

An Ottawa Hospital spokeswoman said the hospital treated three people injured in the shooting for gunshot and other wounds. 

Authorities have not yet ruled out the possibility that there are other shooters still on the loose. 

The Globe and Mail reporters said no one answered the door at Zehaf-Bibeau's mother's Montreal townhouse and neither she nor his father could be reached. 

Wednesday's shooting was the second attack on Canadian soldiers in a week.

On Monday, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a 25-year-old who converted to Islam last year, rammed his car into two soldiers in the Quebec town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and was shot dead by police. One of the soldiers later died.

Couture-Rouleau was among 90 people being tracked by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on suspicion of taking part in militant activities abroad or planning to do so.

No group, Islamic or otherwise, claimed responsibility for either the attack in Ottawa or the one near Montreal on Monday.

BOOSTING POWERS

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed to redouble the country's fight against "terrorist organisations" abroad after the shooting. 

Harper said it was too early to know whether the gunman had accomplices but insisted Canada would never be intimidated.

"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," he said in a televised address to the nation late on Wednesday.

Harper said Canada would now "redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organisations who brutalise those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores".

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Canada's deployment to Iraq would go on unimpeded.

The two attacks in quick succession could push the Canadian government to pause and rethink before introducing a planned bill to change the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, said Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa, who is an expert on national security and intelligence issues.

The bill to boost the powers of Canada's main spy agency, CSIS, was slated to be introduced in parliament this week.

"What the government is now confronting is a choice with going forward on whatever its original, probably small-scale changes might have been, or sitting back and thinking about whether there is something more that needs to be done," he said.

-Fairfax Australia and Reuters

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