A HUGE security operation had parts of Canada’s capital in lockdown last night after a gunman shot and killed a soldier at a war memorial, then opened fire in the parliament building.
Last night police confirmed the soldier, who was guarding the monument in the centre of Ottawa, died shortly after being shot at point-blank range. Two other people who were injured are being treated on hospital.
Canadian police are investigating a man named as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as a possible suspect, a source said.
Two US officials said US agencies have been advised that the shooter was a Canadian convert to Islam. One of the officials said the man was from Quebec.
Ottawa police spokesman Chuck Benoit said authorities believe up to three gunmen were involved in the shootings, all within less than a mile from each other in downtown
Ottawa. He said one suspect had been killed and that a major search had begun to locate any others.
He confirmed several buildings around the city remained in lockdown, with many people trapped indoors as the search for other gunmen intensified.
Police warned people in the area to stay away from windows and rooftops and asked them to not post videos or photos of the “ongoing incident” to ensure the safety of emergency services and the public.
Witnesses spoke of people fleeing the parliament by scrambling down temporary scaffolding erected for renovations, while others sought cover inside as police with rifles and body armour took up positions outside.
Video filmed inside the parliament building shows officers rushing down a large marble hallway with weapons drawn, before the sound of gunfire and shouting rings out. The footage becomes shaky as the cameraman, a local reporter, rushes for cover behind a pillar.
Senior government member Tony Clement said on Twitter that at least 30 shots were fired near the parliament while prime minister Stephen Harper was addressing Cabinet.
“I feared this day would come, and my prayers are with the fallen soldier,” Mr Clement added.
A spokesman for Mr Harper wrote on Twitter that the prime minister was “safe and has left Parliament Hill”.
Later, a photograph of chairs piled up against a door as a barricade was being heavily circulated on Twitter, apparently taken inside a meeting room in the parliament building.
Last night, MP John McKay described the moment the gunman attacked parliament: “There was a pop, pop, pop sound so the guards ushered us to the back of the building. How the gunman was able to walk down the hall of honour inside parliament with a rifle will become an area of investigation.”
The incident came hours after Canada raised its terror threat level after a recent convert to Islam killed a Canadian soldier in Quebec and injured another in a hit-and-run on Monday, before being shot dead by police.
The killer had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and who had previously seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
Also on Monday, a government official said the country had raised its threat level in response to an increase in online “general chatter” from radical groups including Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Public safety ministry spokesman Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said the increased level “means that intelligence has indicated that an individual or group within Canada or abroad has the intent and capability to commit an act of terrorism”.
Earlier this month, the country announced plans to join the US-led campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq – but officials say there is no evidence any of this week’s attacks are linked to IS.
Yesterday’s incident began when soldiers guarding Canada’s main war memorial – a 70ft-long cenotaph to commemorate Great War soldiers – came under fire just before 10am local time.
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said he was “shocked and saddened” by the shootings. He said: “Ottawa police services are engaged with other law-enforcement agencies at this time in pursuit of the criminal or criminals who have carried out this vicious and unwarranted attack.”
Last night, eyewitness Tony Zobl, 35, described how he saw the soldier being gunned down from his fourth-floor window above the war memorial.
He said: “I saw a shooter, a man dressed all in black with a handkerchief 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. The honour guard dropped to the ground, and the shooter kind of raised his arms in triumph, holding the rifle.”
Another witness, 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 building. He said: “I saw a car suddenly stop. There was only one man in the car. 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.”
Mr Merizier said the man had long dark hair and a small beard.
It was reported the soldier who was killed was a reservist from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment, standing guard at the memorial. They carry rifles which are not loaded, experts said.
Prime minister Mr Harper condemned the incident as a “despicable attack”.
US president Barack Obama described the shootings as “outrageous attacks” and has offered to help Canada with its response.
David Cameron said on Twitter: “I’m appalled. I offer my full support to @pmharper and the Canadian people.”
Praise for ex-Mountie who ‘shot Ottawa gunman’
A SERGEANT-at-arms was last night being hailed a hero for reportedly shooting the gunman who killed a soldier and went on the rampage inside the Canadian parliament.
Kevin Vickers, 58, is being praised by politicians – and his brother – amid unconfirmed reports he was the person who shot and killed a suspected gunman.
Comments on Twitter have widely described him as being “a Canadian hero”.
Julian Fantino, Canada’s minister of veterans affairs, was one of the many who took to social media.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Fantino said: “I am safe and profoundly grateful to sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers and our security forces for their selfless act of keeping us safe.
“I want to commend the courage and bravery of the first responders on the ground in Ottawa right now.”
Canada’s minister of justice Peter MacKay added his support for Mr Vickers, writing: “To all in Ottawa, stay safe and strong. Thank God for sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers and our Canadian security forces. True heroes.”
Canadian businesswoman and former MP Martha Hall Findlay said she was “so proud” of the sergeant-at-arms.
Meanwhile, Mr Vickers’ brother, John, tweeted: “Thoughts are with my big brother.”
Canadian media last night reported Mr Vickers had served as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer for 29 years before taking up his current position as sergeant-at-arms in 2006.
The post is responsible for the safety and security of the parliament buildings and everyone in them, though it also includes a ceremonial element of carrying the ceremonial gold mace into the House of Commons before every sitting.