Canada Police: Shooter went from petty crime to terror
OTTAWA — Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was angry about a delayed passport that thwarted his plans to go to Syria when he shot dead a Canadian soldier and attempted a rampage through the Parliament, authorities said.
Zehaf-Bibeau, a Muslim convert, with a Libyan father and a Canadian mother, applied to renew his passport, but a background investigation raised questions, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday.
Authorities conducting the passport investigation thought Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, the son of a Canadian immigration official and a Libyan business man, wanted to go to Libya. Police found out from his mother only yesterday, after police shot Zehaf-Bibeau dead, that he intended to go to Syria, Paulson said.
His motive remains unclear, “but radicalization and the passport figured highly,” Paulson said.
Investigators are now piecing together Zehaf-Bibeau’s transformation from a petty criminal to a man who identified with a jihadist movement overseas.
Zehaf-Bibeau grew up in Montreal where his mother, Susan Bibeau, worked for the federal government on refugee issues. She and Zehaf-Bibeau’s father divorced in 1999. Police say Zehaf-Bibeau may have dual Libyan-Canadian citizenship.
Susan Bibeau told the Associated Press in an email that she hadn’t seen her son in five years until she met him for lunch last week. He seemed lost “and did not fit in.”
“I am mad at my son,” Bibeau wrote in an e-mail to the AP.
She said she mourns only for her son’s victims.
“If I’m crying, it’s for the people, not for my son,” she told the AP in an interview, struggling to hold back tears.
“Can you ever explain something like this?” she said. “We are sorry.”
As an adult, Zehaf-Bibeau lived in Calgary and most recently in Vancouver, where he committed low-level crimes, including drug possession, robbery and assault. He was not legally allowed to possess a gun due to his criminal history, but his background check revealed no national security concerns, Paulson said.
Paulson described Zehaf-Bibeau as having a “very developed criminality of violence, drugs and mental instability.”
He was not among the 93 “high-risk” travelers that the RCMP monitors as potential foreign fighters for groups such as Islamic State, Paulson said. Canadian intelligence services will review the list to identify those who are most troubling, he said.
Zehaf-Bibeau arrived in Ottawa on Oct. 2 to deal with his passport issues, Paulson said. On Oct. 21, he purchased a beige car that he used Wednesday to get to the site of the memorial, Paulson said. Until Wednesday, he was living in a homeless shelter where police recovered some of his personal items.
Police did find Zehaf-Bibeau’s email address on the hard drive of a computer seized from a person arrested on a terrorism office, Paulson said.
The investigation “rapidly determine if Zehaf-Bibeau received any support in the planning of his attack.”
Police on Thursday gave their most detailed account yet of the shooting incident that shut down Canada’s capital. The entire incident transpired in less than five minutes, police said.
Bystanders told police they first saw Zehaf-Bibeau after 9:50 a.m. Wednesday. Police say Zehaf-Bibeau drove the beige car to the war memorial, approached from behind at an angle where the unarmed soldiers guarding the memorial couldn’t see him. He fired his 30/30 Winchester lever-action rifle twice at Reservist Nathan Cirillo, killing him, police said. He fired a third shot at the second guard, but missed.
“Witnesses heard the suspect yelling something in English and then running towards the north,” Paulson said.
He got in the car, drove north to Parliament HIll buildings and parked his car near the entrance. Video shows Zehaf-Bibeau running around the newly installed bollards to the driveway in front of the House of Commons where vehicles used by lawmakers are parked. He chased a driver from one of the cars and drove toward the center of the buildings, parked in front of the Peace Tower and ran into the House of Commons.
Police say they are still investigating the details inside the building where Zehaf-Bibeau exchanged fire with security and RCMP officers.
For now, Paulson said, police will take additional measures to increase surveillance of the “high risk travelers currently under investigation across the country.” Paulson said. More police will patrol Parliament HIll grounds and a rapid response team will operate in the area.
“This is an unsettling event for all of us,” he said. “Though we are calling on everyone to remain vigilant, I want to stress that you are safe. Your families are safe.”