Gunman sought Middle East passport

Published: Friday 24th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Ottawa gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau may have lashed out in frustration over delays in obtaining a passport to the Middle East.

The Canadian citizen seemed lost, “did not fit in”, had drug problems, and went more than five years without seeing his mother.

In recent weeks the Muslim, whose father was from Libya, had been living at a homeless shelter and talked about wanting to go to Libya or Syria, but became agitated when he could not get a passport.

Now a portrait of the killer has begun to emerge, along with a possible explanation for what triggered the deadly attack on Canada’s seat of government by 32-year-old Zehaf-Bibeau.

Bob Paulson, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said: “I think the passport figured prominently in his motives. I’m not inside his head, but I think it was central to what was driving him.”

In what prime minister Stephen Harper called a terrorist attack, Zehaf-Bibeau shot dead Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, who was guarding Canada’s national war memorial on Wednesday, then stormed the parliament building, where he was gunned down by sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, 58.

Zehaf-Bibeau was armed with what police said was a lever-action Winchester rifle, an old fashioned, relatively slow-firing weapon.

The attack was the second deadly assault on Canadian soldiers in three days and forced the country to confront the danger of radicalised citizens in its midst. It also exposed weak spots in security.

During the attack, Mr Harper hid in a closet-like space within a parliament caucus room. The Mounties assigned to protect him were on the other side of the doors to the room. From now on, Mr Paulson said, the officers would guard the prime minister around the clock, wherever he went.

Earlier this week the Mounties said there were about 90 people in the country suspected of planning to join up with extremist fighters abroad or who have returned from such activity.

But Mr Paulson said Zehaf-Bibeau was not on that list nor under surveillance, in part because it was not until after the shooting rampage that they learned from his mother that he wanted to go Syria, where a host of militant groups such as Islamic State (IS) are fighting.

Authorities are investigating how he obtained the rifle, when he should been banned from possessing one because of his criminal record.

Zehaf-Bibeau’s passport application “was not rejected. His passport was not revoked”, Mr Paulson said. “He was waiting to get it, and there was an investigation going on to determine to see whether he would get a passport.”

That obstacle appeared to weigh heavily on Zehaf-Bibeau, who had a string of convictions including assault, robbery, drug and weapons offences.

Abubakir Abdelkareem, who often visited the Ottawa Mission, a homeless shelter where Zehaf-Bibeau stayed in recent weeks, said Zehaf-Bibeau told him he had had a drug problem but had been clean for three months and was trying to steer clear of temptation by going to Libya.

But in the three days before the rampage, “his personality changed completely” Mr Abdelkareem said. “He was not talkative; he was not social” any more and slept during the day. Mr Abdelkareem concluded he was back on drugs.

Lloyd Maxwell, another shelter resident, said Zehaf-Bibeau had lived for some time in Vancouver, then Calgary, then came to Ottawa specifically to try to get a passport, believing that would be more easily accomplished in the nation’s capital.

“He didn’t get it, and that made him very agitated,” Mr Maxwell said. Mr Maxwell said he suggested to him that he might be on a no-fly list, and “he kind of looked at me funny, and he walked away”.

In an email to the Associated Press expressing horror and sadness at what happened, Zehaf-Bibeau’s mother Susan Bibeau said her son seemed lost and “did not fit in” and that she had not seen him for more than five years until having lunch with him last week. “So I have very little insight to offer,” she said.

In a brief and tearful telephone interview, Ms Bibeau, who has homes in Montreal and Ottawa, said she was crying for the victims of the shooting rampage, not her son.

“Can you ever explain something like this?” she said. “We are sorry.”

While he was living in Vancouver in 2011, Zehaf-Bibeau was arrested for robbery, but during a court-ordered psychological evaluation he said he committed the crime for the sole purpose of getting incarcerated.

“He wants to be in jail as he believes this is the only way he can overcome his addiction to crack cocaine,” the report said. “He has been a devoted (Muslim) for seven years and he believes he must spend time in jail as a sacrifice to pay for his mistakes in the past and he hopes to be a better man when he is eventually released.”

He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of making threats and was released after just over two months.

The bloodshed has raised fears that Canada is suffering reprisals – perhaps so-called lone-wolf attacks – for joining the US-led air campaign against IS extremists in Iraq and Syria.

On Monday, a man described as an “Isil (IS)-inspired terrorist” ran over two soldiers in a car park in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot dead by police. Before the attack authorities feared he had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.

In the wake of the tragedy, all members of the Canadian military have been ordered to avoid wearing uniforms in public while doing things such as shopping or eating at restaurants.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said this week’s attacks were probably “the acts of isolated, disturbed and deeply troubled men who were drawn to something crazy”.

Published: Friday 24th October 2014 by The News Editor

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