OTTAWA, Ontario — A gunman shot and fatally wounded a Canadian soldier standing guard at a war memorial in the Canadian capital today, then entered Parliament, where numerous shots rang out, police and witnesses said. Shots were also fired at the nearby mall the Rideau Centre.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that one assailant was killed. Officials identified the dead Ottawa gunman as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Police are searching for at least two people in the attack, which took place two days after the murder of a solider by a “radicalized” man near Montreal raised terrorism concerns nationwide.
Downtown Ottawa remains in lockdown as police investigate “multiple suspects.”
Video taken by a reporter for the Globe and Mail showed police officers walking slowly through Parliament toward the entrance with guns drawn. The sound of a gunshot ran out, followed by the sounds of multiple shots.
Police officers rushed to secure the Parliament building and move occupants to safety as they hunted for what Canadian news reports said were possibly two or three assailants, in what had the appearance of a coordinated attack. Ottawa police Constable Marc Soucy said “most of downtown Ottawa is in lockdown.”
Witnesses said a man with a brown coat was seen shortly before 10 a.m. at the war memorial carrying a rifle. At least a dozen shots were also fired inside the parliament buildings steps away from where lawmakers were meeting.
“We’re looking at multiple suspects,” Constable Chuck Benoit, spokesman for the Ottawa Police Service, said by phone. Police have been dispatched to several locations around the city, including a nearby shopping mall, to track two to three suspects, whose descriptions they have from intelligence reports, Benoit said.
“The situation is live and in progress,” said Sherley Goodgie, spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is collaborating with local police.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is safe and is not on Parliament Hill, according to a statement from his office.
Police wearing balaclavas and carrying rifles were moving between buildings near Metcalfe and Slater streets, about five blocks from Parliament Hill, telling bystanders to get back.
“We’re in lockdown,” Karl Belanger, spokesman for the New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, said in a telephone interview from the parliament building, where he was waiting “calmly” with about a dozen party staffers for the lockdown to be lifted. Belanger said at about 9:50 a.m. he was about to move to another room where lawmakers were holding their weekly meeting. “I looked outside my window and saw the RCMP deploying, about 30 cruisers.”
“I’m ex-military and I’ve never had a weapon pointed at me,” said Barry Willis, a maintenance worker, who said the gunman was wearing a blue and white headscarf. “I’m shaking.”
Harper authorized air strikes earlier this month against Islamic State militants for as long as six months, telling Parliament that group’s threat “is explicitly directed, in part, against this country.”
CF-18 fighter jets left an Alberta military base yesterday to take part in the mission.
Police warned residents to stay away from the downtown core and to keep away from windows and buildings in the core were in lockdown. Armed officers were on the scene, with about 20 police cars surrounding the war memorial steps from Parliament Hill.
Harper plans to comment on the shootings later today, his office said in a statement. Harper today was set to meet with in Toronto with Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was to be given honorary Canadian citizenship for her fight against extremist violence.
Marc-Andre Viau, a spokesman for the New Democratic Party, said he saw a gunman enter the main parliamentary building that houses the legislative chambers, pursued by police. Maurice Vellacott, a lawmaker for the Conservatives, said he was giving a tour to visitors when he heard a shot fired. “At first when you hear the bang, you’re not sure what it is,” Vellacott told reporters.
“What I saw was one person shot,” said Yan Legtenvorg, a tourist from Holland who was at the war memorial. He ran “to Parliament Hill with his rifle in his hand. Small guy with long black hair. We heard four shots and we saw the guy running away with a long rifle.”
Tony Zobl, 35, said he witnessed the soldier being gunned down from his fourth-floor window directly above the National War Memorial, a tall granite cenotaph, or empty tomb, with bronze sculptures dedicated to those who died in World War I.
“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 honor guard in front of the cenotaph point-blank, twice,” Zobl told the Canadian Press news agency.
“The honor guard dropped to the ground, and the shooter kind of raised his arms in triumph holding the rifle.”
Zobl said the gunman then ran up the street toward Parliament Hill.
The Ottawa attack came two days after a recent convert to Islam killed one Canadian soldier and injured another in a hit-and-run crash before being shot to death by police. The killer had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
Canada had raised its domestic terror threat level from low to medium Tuesday because of “an increase in general chatter from radical Islamist organizations,” said Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, a spokesman for the public safety minister.
Officials also canceled two events in Toronto honoring Pakistani teenager and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, including one in which she was supposed to receive honorary Canadian citizenship. The teenager was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for calling for schooling for girls.
The shootings began about 10 a.m., just as the leaders of Parliament were holding their weekly meetings, suggesting the possibility of deliberate timing. Many of the lawmakers were rushed into secure rooms in the basement by guards.
Cabinet minister Tony Clement tweeted that at least 30 shots were heard inside Parliament. “I’m safe locked in a office awaiting security,” Kyle Seeback, another member of Parliament, tweeted.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police warned people in downtown Ottawa to stay away from windows and rooftops.
The assailant’s identity and motive were not clear.
The Ottawa hospital said it received three victims from the shootings in Canada’s capital, and two are in stable condition..
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.
At least 10 Royal Canadian Mounted Police squad cars converged on Parliament Hill’s Centre Block, as heavily armed officers wearing bulletproof vests went into the complex.