October 22, 2014- OPINION AND ANALYSIS provided By William R Collier Jr- What began as reports of a gunman leaping from a car and shooting two guards at the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa has become a story of multiple attackers disrupting life in the nation’s capital. But police revealed late that night that this was, “a lone wolf act of terror.”
Canada was under attack as police and paramilitary, along with armored vehicles, ranged the streets looking for “multiple shooters.” A shooter described as having long hair and carrying a long gun, exited a vehicle and “slowly but deliberately” approached a soldier at the War Memorial, a ceremonial guard, shooting him in the chest. The attacker then ran some 200 yards (past his car) to the “center block” of the Parliament building, which was filled because today is a caucus day. During caucus days, almost all Members of Parliament (MP’s) are present for caucus meetings of various sorts.
The shootings were first reported at 9:52 AM. The ceremonial guard was taken to the hospital where he would later succumb to his wounds, a terrible symbolic blow aimed at the heart of Canada’s storied martial past, and her honor, which the War Memorial represents. The guard who was killed was Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, reserve soldier from Hamilton, according to reports.
After shooting the soldier, the attacker is reported to have “raised his gun in triumph over his head.”
Craig Scott from Toronto, a Canadian MP, credited Kevin Vickers, Sergeant At Arms, with saving many lives by his quick action outside an MP Caucus Room where he killed the attacker- the attacker’s aim was to gain entrance into Caucus Room where the cabinet along with the Prime Minister Harper were meeting in caucus. With that in mind, the aim of the attack has clearly not been achieved, the goal would have been to kill the Prime Minister and as many cabinet members as possible. Vickers was a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The quick action of a man on scene with a gun gives further credence to the notion that disarming large public spaces does not make them safer- if this had been a university no armed person would have barred access to that room.
The dead attacker’s name is Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32. He is believed to be Canadian born and was a recent convert to Islam. He had been banned from traveling abroad and it was believed he wished to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ISIS had been calling for lone wolf operations, which are impossible to detect because they involve no planning or communicating among multiple actors.
Right after the shooting, police were seen moving door to door along Spark street, an historic roadway that extends from Parliament Hill, looking for possible suspects. Residents were told to close and lock doors, barricade themselves, and cover windows and “do not open your door under any circumstances.” This was lifted at around 1:30 PM and people were released to go home in a deliberate process.
All the bridges across the Ottawa River which lead to the province of Quebec have been closed.
This comes just two days after a Muslim extremist ran over two Canadian soldiers in Quebec, killing one, which is one of the reasons fingers had already been pointed at Salafist radicals in Canada who hide among the peaceful, and unwitting, Muslim population. Concerns of an un-merited backlash against Muslims in general have also been raised.
As these accusations were lobbed and concerns raised, Police were urging Canadians in the capital not to post pictures of soldiers or police which might reveal locations and tactics. People are being told to “get off the streets into shelter.”
Coincident with the attacks is that on the same day Canada’s Parliament was expected to consider, and pass, tough new anti-terrorism measures.
Police had confirmed that there were multiple locations where shots were fired but late that same night they retracted the confirmation. There were reported shootings at the War Memorial, inside Parliament, at a local mall (Rideau Centre Mall), and at a hotel. The attacker was killed in the abrupt and short-duration fighting. It is now confirmed that this is related to Salafist Jihad.
The objective of terrorism is to achieve one of two aims: to cause the government to over-react and alien the target population which leads to new recruits for the terrorist group, or to show the ineptness of government which leads to public fears and giving in to terrorist demands. The ability of a government to target the enemy without clamping down harshly on a broader audience is seen as crucial in responding to such acts. Erring too much in either giving in to public outrage which is often directed at a broader audience or giving in to political correctness and appearing to be weak and indecisive are the two dangers which governments must avoid.
Only the day before, at a Canadian Senate hearing, officials warned that a “disrproportionate” number of “radicalized Islamists” have made there way too Canada and through Canada and that “resources to track and stop them” are stretched “too thin” and that Canadian agencies have been forced to make “hard decisions” about who to track. What was recommended was a “change in attitude” toward Canada’s immigration policy, particularly with regards to Muslims, and its policies towards its immigrant Muslim population.
During his speach, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared this to be an act of terror and vowed that terrorists would have “no place to hide.” This is much different from how his American counterpart responded to the lone wolf operation of a Salafo-Jihadist in Fort Hood who killed a number of American service members. President Obama called that act “workplace violence”, but Harper called this act “a brutal and violent act of terror.”
The juxtaposition between the two men and their reactions was not lost on opposition groups in America who used it to paint their nation’s President as indecisive, weak, and bumbling. President Obama has yet to identify this as an act of terror, let alone Islamic terror. Fresh questions about the Administration’s categorization of the 2009 lone wolf act of terror in Fort Hood as “workplace violence” are inevitable.
Canada is now considering its response as the city of Toronto currently has a greater Muslim population than any city in North America. Some are calling for a broad-brush rethink of Canada’s relationship with Muslim immigrants and the Muslim community in general. Others argue that allowing this act of terror to cause such an “over-reaction” will lead to yet more radicalization. The Prime Minister is expected to steer a middle road between the two positions.