Gunman in Ottawa Attack Planned to Leave for Syria

Gunman who carried out shooting attack in the Canadian capital recently applied for a passport, says RCMP Commissioner.

Ben Ariel ,

Site of Ottawa shooting attack
Site of Ottawa shooting attack

The gunman who carried out Wednesday’s shooting attack in the Canadian capital Ottawa had recently applied for a passport and was hoping to leave for Syria, the country’s top cop said on Thursday, according to the Globe and Mail.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Bob Paulson said 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who acted alone and may have had Libyan-Canadian citizenship, had been in Ottawa since at least October 2 and was here to “deal with a passport issue.”

Commissioner Paulson told reporters Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau, who was killed in Centre Block’s hallway outside the Library of Parliament, was not one of the 90 “high-risk travellers” currently being investigated and tracked by Canadian authorities.

He was, however, was on the radar of the federal force, which had uncorroborated information that he was associated with an individual “known to us,” Commissioner Paulson said.

He added Zehaf-Bibeau’s “e-mail was found on the hard-drive” of someone that the RCMP had charged with a terrorist-related offence, though he added the force needs to understand what, exactly, that means.

Commissioner Paulson said that after Zehaf-Bibeau applied for a passport, the RCMP was contacted to conduct a background check.

“The RCMP did not possess information at that time that would reveal any national-security-related criminality,” he said, according to the Globe and Mail, adding that his criminal record indicated infractions related to drugs, violence and “other criminal activities.”

The Montreal man’s passport application wasn’t rejected, but hadn’t yet been approved because the investigation was ongoing to determine whether he should receive one, the report noted. Commissioner Paulson said the impetus for the shootings are not yet known, but authorities believe the passport is “part” of the man’s motivation.

He revealed that it was Zehaf-Bibeau’s mother, Susan Bibeau, who told police on Wednesday that her son was looking to travel to Syria.

Commissioner Paulson, who fielded questions about whether authorities have the powers and resources they need to find and track radicalized individuals, said the force will continue to exercise “increased vigilance” until the full threat to Canadians is determined – including by ramping up surveillance of the 93 high-risk travellers currently under investigation across the country.

“We’re sitting down with CSIS and re-evaluating all of our individuals to make sure that those that present the greatest risk are assessed and have resources attributed to them,” he said, adding that the force has no imminent intention of making any arrests.

The commissioner said Zehab-Bibeau purchased a beige vehicle on October 21, the day before the deadly attack, and then used the car to get from the cenotaph, where he killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, to the foot of the parliamentary precinct.

Commissioner Paulson said that according to some accounts, the gunman was “an individual who may have held extremist beliefs.” He said that while authorities are convinced there was only one shooter, the investigation will reveal whether he had any support in the planning or execution of the shootings.

Wednesday’s attack in Ottawa came just two days after 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.

It also took place one day after Canada’s federal government raised its internal threat level, citing an increase in “general chatter from radical Islamist organizations”.