‘It can happen here and it did’: Canada reeling after ‘terror’ attack
“It can happen here, and it did.” So spoke the mayor of Ottawa on the streets of the Canadian capital, shortly after police lifted the lockdown around parliament late on Wednesday night.
Those leaving described dramatic scenes. Conservative MPs were blockaded inside their caucus room, up against the wall, reaching for flagpoles to defend themselves from whoever was firing the salvos they heard in the central hall directly outside.
On the other side of the hall, the opposition NDP caucus blockaded their doors with desks.
But it could have been so much worse. If the gunman had entered the same central hall an hour later, it would have been “jam packed” as one commentator put it. Filled to the brim with 308 MPs and media discussing the day’s legislative business.
On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, addressed the nation describing Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who had been standing guard by the war memorial, as “murdered in cold blood.”
He didn’t mention the shooter by name, suspected to be Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, born in Quebec to a Libyan father and French Canadian mother, who is a senior public servant. He had a minor criminal record – drug use, and a mugging. Reuters reports that he’d recently converted to Islam.
But the prime minister did deploy the T word: he called the shooter “the terrorist”. Whether the term derived from the nature of the attack (“attacks on these institutions”, he said represented “attacks on our values”) or derived from some unspoken connection to an organised terror group was left loudly unsaid.
He pointedly referred to Canada’s combat mission in Iraq – declaring Canada would not be intimidated, and in light of yesterday’s attack only strengthen its resolve.
And the prime minister remembered another soldier: Patrice Vincent, killed in Montreal on Monday after he was run down by radicalised jihadist Ahmad Rouleau. Rouleau himself was then shot and killed by police.
There are so many questions – here’s a starter list:
– Was there ever more than one shooter on Parliament Hill? Eyewitnesses spoke of two men.
– Was the gunman who was killed a lone wolf, inspired by jihadist ideology, or was he part of a network?
– Both Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau were on a terror watch list – the RCMP had taken passports off both because they were seen as being likely to go and fight abroad. Knowing that, how were they able to go on and commit such acts of violence inside Canada?
– How did the gunman get all the way inside the central halls of parliament through security gates, before he was stopped?
One MP left the building tonight crestfallen. Asked about the future of this parliament of the people, a place that Canadians prided themselves was accessible to all, she answered: “it breaks my heart, but it’s going to have to change.”
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