The gunman who shot dead a soldier in the Canadian capital was not under surveillance or on a list of around 90 individuals deemed to be a “high risk”, police have admitted.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he guarded the National War Memorial in Ottawa, before going on to storm the Canadian parliament where he was himself shot dead following a gun battle.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) commissioner Bob Paulson said Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, was a recent convert to Islam who had sought a passport in order to travel to Syria.
“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,” he told a press conference.
His 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.”
He added that Zehaf-Bibeau’s email address had been found on the hard drive of someone who has already been charged with terror-related offences.
But he said that the gunman – who was born to a Libyan father and Canadian mother and had been living in a shelter in the capital – was not on the list of 93 individuals that police have recently been examining.
Mr Paulson added: “We need to investigate and understand his radicalisation process. He is an interesting individual in the sense that he had a very developed criminality of violence and of drugs and of mental instability.
“We have evidence of association with individuals who may have shared his radical views.”
Zehaf-Bibeau was shot dead by sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, who was given a lengthy standing ovation as he walked into parliament yesterday.
Earlier the Queen made a statement on the shooting, which has sent shockwaves around Canada and the rest of the world.
She said: “Philip and I were shocked and saddened by the events in Ottawa.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.”
British police and intelligence chiefs are reviewing the security of Parliament and other London institutions after the incident.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who was with MI5 director-general Andrew Parker and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe when news broke about the attack, said he had been given reassurances about the measures in place.
Speaking to the BBC’s Asian Network, he said: “From everything I see – and I regularly chair Cobra meetings in our emergency committee to review our security - I know that we are taking steps across the board to meet the threats that we face as a country.
“Obviously what’s happened in Canada is a very tragic event. Lives have been lost, including the life of a soldier, and it shows that we have to be permanently vigilant against this sort of terrorist threat.
“Here in the UK we are very vigilant and, as I’ve said, meetings are taking place to make sure that we have all the angles covered.”
The country’s foreign minister John Baird said there was no evidence that Canada’s involvement in US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria was a possible motive.
“We have seen no specific evidence to suggest that but we are tremendously concerned with the number of Canadians who have radicalised and are fighting in Syria and Iraq. But we don’t have any evidence to link the two at this stage,” he told BBC 5 Live’s Up All Night programme.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper condemned the “brutal attack” but insisted the nation would “never be intimidated” by terrorists.
He said: “In the days to come we will learn more about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had. This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world.
“But 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 to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home, just as it will strengthen our resolve and 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.
“They will have no safe haven.”
Initial reports suggested that two other gunmen may have taken part in the attacks but police said only Zehaf-Bibeau was involved and also dismissed reports of a third incident at a shopping mall.
Video filmed from inside the parliament building showed officers rushing down a large marble hallway with weapons drawn in front of them, before the sound of gunfire.
Alain Merizier, a waiter in the parliament dining room, said he was on his way to work when he saw a gunman run from a car towards the parliament.
“I saw a car suddenly stop,” he told the BBC. “There was only one man in the car. He went out of the left side.
“He had a long gun and he ran away to the front and went inside the parliament. I heard one shot. I saw an officer running after him.”
Zehaf-Bibeau’s parents have released a statement saying they wanted to “apologise for all the pain, fright and chaos” their son has caused.
Susan Bibeau and Bulgasem Zehaf admitted they had “no explanation to offer” for what he did.
His mother added that although she spoke with him last week, she had not seen him for more than five years before that “so I have very little insight to offer”.