Canada attacker had planned to travel to Syria

  • Agencies, Ottawa
  • Updated: Oct 24, 2014 12:59 IST

The gunman in the attack on Canada's parliament had a criminal record and recently applied for a passport, planning to travel to Syria after undergoing a "radicalisation process," police said on Thursday.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, was a Canadian who may also have held Libyan citizenship, said Bob Paulson, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He said the suspect had no apparent links to another Canadian who killed a soldier in Quebec earlier in the week.

Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shot a soldier at a national war memorial in the capital Ottawa on Wednesday before racing through the parliament building where he was shot dead near where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with lawmakers.

Born in Montreal to a father from Libya and a Canadian mother, Zehaf-Bibeau had gone on to live in Calgary and Vancouver, police said.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police intervention team responds to the shooting at Parliament building in Ottawa on Wednesday. (AP Photo)

"We need to investigate and understand his radicalization process. He is an interesting individual in that he had a very well developed criminality," Paulson said. "There is no one path or one formula to radicalization."

The RCMP had only learned of the suspect's interest in traveling to Syria when it interviewed his mother on Wednesday, the commissioner said.

US officials said on Wednesday they had been advised Zehaf-Bibeau was a convert to Islam, the same as the assailant in Monday's attack, Martin Rouleau, 25, who ran over two Canadian soldiers with his car. Both attackers were shot dead.

"We have no information linking the two attacks this week," Paulson told reporters in Ottawa, which remained on high security alert. He said police expected to swiftly determine whether Zehaf-Bibeau received support in planning his attack.

Zehaf-Bibeau had recently applied for a passport and had arrived in Ottawa on October 2 to try to speed that process, but checks by the RCMP did not turn up any evidence of national security-related criminality despite criminal records indicating infractions related to drugs, violence and other criminal activities, Paulson said.

Questions about email

The commissioner said Zehaf-Bibeau's email was found in the hard drive of someone charged with what he called a terrorist-related offence.

"We need to understand what that means and so when we say 'a connection' it is a sort of, you know, the weakest of connections. Clearly given what's happened it's strengthened by what's happened," Paulson said.

Zehaf-Bibeau was not one of a group of 93 people the RCMP are investigating as "high-risk travelers," he added.

Underscoring tensions on Thursday, armed police arrested a man who tried to approach the shooting site just as Harper, the prime minister, was laying a wreath to commemorate the slain soldier.

Harper said the attack would only strengthen Canada's response to "terrorist organisations." On Tuesday, Canada sent six warplanes to the West Asia to participate in US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants who have taken over parts of Iraq.

Harper 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 attacks prompted US officials to consider steps to tighten controls on the border with Canada and make it easier to revoke the passports of suspected militants, but officials cautioned the talks are in preliminary stages.

The parliament attacker was a misfit and perhaps mentally ill,according to police, friends and family, while his troubled and transient past included robbery and drug offences.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, a Canadian citizen and convert to Islam, was identified by police on Thursday as the attacker in the incident that rocked Canada.

"(He) was lost and did not fit in. I his mother spoke with him last week over lunch, I had not seen him for over five years before that," a woman who identified herself as Zehaf-Bibeau's mother said in a statement provided to the Associated Press.

"He is an interesting individual in the sense he had a very developed criminality ... a non-national-security related criminality of violence and of drugs and of mental instability," Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Bob Paulson told a news conference on Thursday.

"I think the passport figured prominently in his motives and his - you know I'm not inside his head - but I think it was
central to what was driving him," Paulson said.

Paulson also said emails suggested he had associations with people who had shared his radical views.

A friend who lived with Zehaf-Bibeau at a Vancouver homeless shelter said Zehaf-Bibeau had tried unsuccessfully to get off drugs.

"We referred to him as Muslim Mike," Steve Sikich told Reuters. "He didn't seem like a bad guy." Sikich told Reuters the last time he saw Zehaf-Bibeau he appeared grey and sickly, back on drugs, and was rambling about wanting to travel to Libya and then join the Islamic State.

He said the encounter was "a month or two ago." "He was crying on my shoulder, because he and I were friends, and he says, 'I can't take it anymore. I'm going back home to Libya'," said Sikich. "He kind of went into a rant. He seemed very emotional about it," he said.

(with Reuters and AP inputs)

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