Chris Wattie / Reuters

Canada says attacks won’t dent its support for anti-ISIL strikes

PM Stephen Harper tells Parliament that ‘Canadians will not be intimidated’

Canada has vowed to continue efforts to support the United States-led coalition fighting ISIL extremists, despite two domestic “terrorist” attacks that have raised concern that the country may be targeted for its involvement in the Middle East. 

“Our deployments in support of the security forces in Iraq will continue unimpeded,” Canadian Defense Minister Rob Nicholson said late Wednesday. Meanwhile at home, service personnel would "continue to stand on guard, vigilant in their duty to protect Canada and Canadians,” he said.

The comments, which echoed earlier remarks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came a day after Parliament and its surrounding area were placed on shutdown in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a soldier nearby.

Harper visited the National War Memorial Wednesday — the site of the initial attack — on Thursday. He laid a wreath and later addressed Parliament, where he said lawmakers would expedite new powers to counter the threat of domestic terrorism.

"The objective of these attacks was to instill fear and panic in our country," Harper said. "Canadians will not be intimidated. We will be vigilant, but we will not run scared. We will be prudent but we will not panic." 

Harper also pledged to speed up a plan already under way to bolster Canadian laws and police powers in the areas of "surveillance, detention and arrest."

The remarks came a day after a gunman shot and killed soldier Nathan Cirillo, 24. 

The perpetrator, believed to be 32-year-old Quebec-native Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, went on to storm Parliament in a dramatic attack that was stopped cold when he was shot to death by a ceremonial sergeant-at-arms. Investigators have provided no information about Zehaf-Bibeau’s motives, but Harper labeled him a "terrorist."

The PM said: "In the days to come we will learn about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had." 

Court records that appear to be the gunman's reveal a long criminal history — including a string of convictions for assault, robbery, drug and weapons offenses, and other crimes. 

Harper said Wednesday’s attack was the second “terrorist attack” in Canada in three days.

In the first, a man the prime minister described as an "ISIL-inspired terrorist" ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec on Monday, killing one and injuring another before being shot to death by police. 

The perpetrator in that case had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had ambitions to fight for extremists groups and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has called for reprisals against Canada and other Western countries that have joined the U.S.-led air campaign against the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. 

It is not known if the two incidents this week in Canada are related, though Ottawa police said during a press conference on Wednesday that the shootings "caught us by surprise." Witnesses said Cirillo, killed in Wednesday’s attack, was gunned down at point-blank range by a man carrying a rifle and dressed all in black, his face half-covered with a scarf. 

The gunman appeared to raise his arms in triumph, then entered Parliament, a few hundred yards away, where dozens of shots soon rang out, according to witnesses. 

People fled the complex by scrambling down scaffolding erected for renovations, while others took cover inside as police with rifles and body armor took up positions outside and cordoned off the normally bustling streets around Parliament. At least three people were treated for minor injuries.

In Washington, President Barack Obama condemned the shootings as "outrageous" and said "We have to remain vigilant." The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa was locked down as a precaution, and security was tightened at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington. 

Meanwhile, the mother of the alleged gunman, Susan Bibeau, said on Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press that she was in mourning for the victims of the attack.

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

In a separate email expressing horror and sadness at what happened, Bideau said that her son seemed lost and "did not fit in," and that she hadn't seen him for more than five years before they spoke over lunch last week. "So I have very little insight to offer," she said.

"If I'm crying, it's for the people," she said, struggling to hold back tears. "Not for my son."

Al Jazeera and wire services 


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