Canada Parliament Locked Down After Gunman Opens Fire In Ottawa

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Canada Parliament Locked Down After Gunman Opens Fire In Ottawa
Amateur video captures the moment shots ring out inside the halls of Parliament Hill's Centre Block in Ottawa.

Ottawa: The Canadian capital, Ottawa, was locked down after a gunman shot and killed a soldier at the National War Memorial before opening fire at the country's parliament buildings, where he was shot dead by a guard.

In extraordinary scenes, up to 40 shots were fired inside the Parliament building as politicians, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, took shelter in offices and were told to barricade the doors.

Died: Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Photo: Twitter @globeandmail

Local police confirmed that a male soldier shot at the war memorial had died as well as the suspected gunman following the attack just before 10am on Wednesday local time (1am AEDT Thursday). 

The dead soldier has been identified as Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Police sources have confirmed to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Globe and Mail newspaper that the dead shooting suspect is Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian born in 1982.

He was recently designated a "high-risk traveller" by the Canadian government and his passport had been seized, the Globe and Mail reported.

It was not clear if the suspect had acted alone. Ottawa police said they were looking for one or more suspects. The lockdown of the city centre was lifted hours later - but Parliament remained under tight control.

Hours after the event, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an address to the nation that Canada would not be intimidated by the attack, nor an earlier, second one this week.

MPs block the door with chairs during a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo: Nina Grewal

While stressing that the nation's security agencies will do everything needed to counter threats, Mr Harper said: "Let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated."

"In fact 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 and keep Canada safe here at home."

Members of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police intervention team respond to the shooting at the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Photo: AP

Mr Harper, who earlier described the attack as "despicable", had been addressing a caucus meeting in Parliament when gunfire erupted just outside the room, a cabinet minister told Reuters.

"PM was addressing caucus, then a huge boom, followed by rat-a-tat shots. We all scattered. It was clearly right outside our caucus door," Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement said.

Mr Harper was later removed from the building safely, and Parliament was locked down.

Paramedics and police pull a victim away from the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa Photo: AP

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, a former policeman, told the Toronto Sun that Parliament's Head of Security, Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, had shot the suspect dead.

"All the details are not in, but the Sergeant-at-Arms, a former Mountie, is the one that engaged the gunman, or one of them at least, and stopped this," Mr Fantino said. "He did a great job and, from what I know, shot the gunman and he is now deceased."

Soldier shot at 'point-blank' range
Police and medical personnel move a wounded person into an ambulance at the scene of a shooting at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Photo: AFP

The gunman started his rampage at the National War Memorial, where he shot and killed a male soldier.

Tony Zobl, 35, told The Canadian Press that he saw the soldier being gunned down from his fourth-floor office window directly above the monument.

"I looked out the window and saw a shooter, a man dressed all in black with a kerchief over his nose and mouth and something over his head as well, holding a rifle and shooting an honour guard in front of the Cenotaph point blank, twice," Mr Zobl said. 

Police at the scene of a shooting at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada. Photo: AFP

"It looked like the honour guard was trying to reach for the barrel of the gun.

"The honour guard dropped to the ground and the shooter kind of raised his arms in triumph holding the rifle."

Witnesses said the gunman then hijacked a car and drove the short distance to Parliament Hill.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been taken to a secure location away from Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Other politicians have been asked to stay in their offices. Photo: Reuters

Tony Abbott responds

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in a brief statement at Parliament House, said Australia's "solidarity" was with the parliament and people of Canada "on this grim day".

"The threat to free countries and free institutions is very real indeed," he said.

RCMP intervention team members clear the area at the entrance of Parliament hill in Ottawa. Photo: AP

Mr Abbott discussed the safety of Canberra, as well.
"I also want to assure Australians that security was upgraded at this Parliament about six weeks ago. We believe we are in a good position to respond to any hostile acts in this building. We are constantly reviewing the security of this and other public buildings."

Captured on camera
Police officers take cover near Parliament Hill following the shooting incident in Ottawa. Photo: Reuters

Dramatic video footage posted by the Globe and Mail newspaper showed police with guns drawn inside the main Parliament building. At least a dozen loud bangs can be heard on the clip echoing through the hallway.

Canadian authorities provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with the name of the dead gunman, law enforcement officials in Washington said. By Wednesday afternoon, a search of FBI databases had not come up with anything, they said. They declined to reveal the gunman's name.

The shootings began just as the leaders of the three major parties in Parliament were holding their weekly meetings, suggesting the attack may have been deliberately timed. Many of the lawmakers were rushed into secure rooms in the basement by guards.

Police officers respond to shooting attacks inside the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Photo: Reuters/The Globe and Mail

"I heard the shots as I was walking into a conference meeting," said Chrystia Freeland, a member of Parliament from Toronto, speaking by phone from a windowless room in the basement. "I'm surrounded by more than a dozen House of Commons security guards."

The shootings came amid heightened concern among Canadians about terrorist attacks. Two days earlier, a radical jihadist ran over two soldiers at a suburban shopping strip in Montreal, killing one of them.

Martin Couture-Rouleau ran over a soldier, killing him before being shot dead by police as he emerged from his wrecked car wielding a knife.

Couture-Rouleau was reportedly a supporter of the so-called Islamic State, a jihadist group operating in Iraq and Syria, and on the same list as Zehaf-Bibeau.

Mr Harper, an outspoken critic of the Islamic State movement and other militant groups, has been considering the introduction of new anti-terrorism legislation.

'He had a long gun'

Alain Merizier, a waiter at the parliamentary dining room, said he saw the gunman enter the building after stopping in a black vehicle.

"I saw suddenly the car stop," he told the BBC. "I saw the guy on the driver's seat opened his door. He had a long gun; he ran right away to the entrance and he went inside Parliament and I heard one shot."

The buildings were put in lockdown as police and tactical teams converged on the area, crouching behind police cars and along fences.

Police cleared streets around Parliament and cleared people from the area, shouting "it's still active".

People in downtown Ottawa were warned to stay away from windows and off roofs due to an "ongoing police incident", the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement.

The fatally wounded soldier was taken into an ambulance where medical personnel could be seen giving him CPR. He was pronounced dead at hospital. 
The Ottawa Hospital said in a statement that it was treating three people for wounds related to the shooting.

'Barricade the door'

As the drama unfolded, police in dark bulletproof vests and automatic weapons flooded the streets near Parliament.

Some took cover behind vehicles, and shouted to people to clear the area, saying: "We do not have the suspect in custody. You are in danger here."
Members of Parliament were told to lock themselves in their offices, and stay away from the windows.

"If your door does not lock, find a way to barricade the door, if possible. Do not open a door under any circumstances," said a security alert issued by Parliament officials.

All mobile phones in the area were blocked.

'Smell of gunpowder'

A construction worker on the scene said he heard a gunshot, and then saw a man dressed in black with a scarf over his face running towards Parliament with a gun.

The man stopped a black car at gunpoint and hijacked it, construction worker Scott Walsh said. The driver got out safely, then the man drove the car to the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, where construction work is underway.

"He was wearing blue pants and a black jacket and he had a double barrelled shotgun and he ran up the side of this building here and hijacked a car at gunpoint," construction worker Scott Walsh said.

The suspected gunman rushed past a woman with a child in a stroller, who ran away screaming. He did not attack the woman or child, Mr Walsh said.

Centre Block is the main building at Parliament Hill, a sprawling complex of buildings and open space in downtown Ottawa. It contains the House of Commons and Senate chambers, as well as the offices of some members of Parliament, senators, and senior administration for both legislative houses.

A Globe and Mail reporter in Centre Block on Parliament Hill tweeted that the building was in lockdown after "at least one shooter burst in and opened fire".

Journalists covering Parliament were ordered by police officers at gunpoint to lie on the floor in the foyer in front of the House of Commons, The Globe and Mail reported on its website. The Globe and Mail's correspondent, Josh Wingrove, said in a series of Twitter posts that the hallways were filled with the smell of gunpowder.

One member of Parliament, Mark Strahl, tweeted from inside parliament.

Leaders condemn shooting

Mr Harper's office released a statement on Wednesday condemning the "despicable attack".

"The Prime Minister reiterated the importance of the continued functioning of the government and our Parliament," the statement said. 

The White House said US President Barack Obama had spoken on the phone to Mr Harper. Mr Obama condemned the attack as "outrageous" and has offered to help the US ally with its response.

Canada earlier this month announced plans to join the US-led campaign of air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq. There has been no confirmation that this week's attacks are linked to IS or the new military campaign.

On Friday, Canadian authorities had raised the country's terror threat level.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Jason Tamming, a spokesman for Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney, said the decision to raise the level was linked to an increase in "general chatter" from radical Islamist organisations like Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the extremist group al-Shabaab and others who pose a threat to Canadians.

Fairfax Media with Reuters, AFP, The New York Times, Bloomberg

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