OTTAWA — Before he shot and killed a soldier, before he opened fire inside the Canadian Parliament and before he sparked a panic that froze a large part of the capital, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau wanted to leave.
The man police said carried out the shooting here Wednesday arrived in the city less than three weeks earlier so that he could get a passport and fly to Syria.
However, in a sign of how difficult it can be to determine who may pose a threat, police said Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau was not one of the roughly 90 “high-risk travelers” the authorities have been monitoring because they are suspected of wanting to join extremists fighting overseas.
“These are difficult threats to detect,” Bob Paulson, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the agency investigating the shooting, said during a briefing Thursday. “There is no way of knowing where or when such an attack could take place.”
Zehaf-Bibeau’s passport application had not been approved or denied, but an investigation was determining whether he would receive one, Paulson said. That contradicted earlier reports that his passport had been revoked by authorities.
While police do not know what prompted the shooting, Paulson said they believe “the passport figured prominently in his motives.”
Authorities have not found any link between Wednesday’s bloodshed and another attack on soldiers two days earlier, Paulson said. A Canadian man who police said had become “radicalized” hit two military members Monday with a car, killing one of them.
Zehaf-Bibeau had a criminal record stretching back at least a decade littered with convictions for drug use and other illegal activities, police said.
Some information suggests that he “may have held extremist beliefs,” Paulson said, and authorities said he may have had troubling ties.
“We do have information now that suggests an association with some individuals who may have shared his radical views,” Paulson said. He later elaborated by saying that Zehaf-Bibeau’s e-mail was found in the hard drive of a person who has been charged with “a
terrorism-related offense,” Paulson said.
But Paulson cautioned that this is a weak connection and that police still need to figure out what that means.
A day after Zehaf-Bibeau’s assault, police determined that he had acted alone in the attack.
Police said that only a day before the attack, Zehaf-Bibeau bought the beige car he drove to the National War Memorial, where he shot and killed Nathan Cirillo.
But it was not clear how a 32-year-old man staying at an Ottawa shelter was able to get the car, nor how he obtained the Winchester rifle used Wednesday.
Video footage screened by police Thursday showed that at 9:52 a.m., right as authorities were receiving the first 911 calls about gunshots at the war memorial, the gunman parked his car and ran through the bollards toward the Parliament.
He then approached an area where vehicles belonging to government ministers were parked and, after one of the drivers got out and ran away, Zehaf-Bibeau climbed into that car and drove it to the entrance to Parliament.
It took less than 90 seconds for Zehaf-Bibeau to park his Toyota and make it inside the heart of Canada’s government, police said.
A hail of gunfire followed as he exchanged shots with House of Commons security and RCMP officers, though the exact details of this — including how many shots were fired — remain under investigation.
Zehaf-Bibeau’s parents expressed their sorrow for the family of the soldier killed Wednesday.
“We are both crying for them,” Susan Bibeau and Bulgasem Zehaf said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We also wish to apologize for all the pain, fright and chaos he created.”
They said they did not understand what happened and could offer no explanation for what he did.
Zehaf-Bibeau was born in Montreal and might have also had Libyan citizenship, according to authorities. He had lived in Calgary and Vancouver before arriving in Ottawa this month, spending at least two weeks staying at a shelter for men located a short walk across a bridge from Parliament Hill and the memorial.
Residents there said Thursday that they had kept their distance from him and rarely spoke much with him, sensing a chilly aloofness.
“He was well-groomed,” said David Duchesne, 53. “He had very nice teeth. But his eyes were dead.”
Duchesne said he had thanked Zehaf-Bibeau for translating on behalf of an Arabic-speaking man who frequented the mission, he recalled.
“I speak many languages,”
Zehaf-Bibeau replied, according to Duchesne.
Zehaf-Bibeau had sometimes bragged about a series of high-paying jobs he claimed to have held in Vancouver, Duchesne said.
Like every other building in downtown Ottawa, the shelter spent most of Wednesday under lockdown. A bomb disposal squad from the RCMP came to the shelter that night and searched Zehaf-Bibeau’s room, taking away a duffle bag and searching other rooms.
Alan French, 61, said he arose about 3 a.m. on Wednesday and saw Zehaf-Bibeau praying on a landing. About 8:30 a.m., a fire alarm sounded and the building emptied. But it was a false alarm that occurred a little more than an hour before the attack at the war memorial.
“He kept by himself,” French said. “Then, that morning, he did the deed.”