Ottawa, Oct 23: Canada’s capital on Wednesday faced the fatal shooting of a soldier and an attack on parliament building in which gunshots were fired outside a room where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking. The Prime Minister was safely removed and the gunman in the parliament building was shot dead.
The Canadian police have reportedly stated that they could not “at this point” confirm whether the man who shot dead the soldier, who was guarding the National War Memorial in central Ottawa, was the same person who shortly afterwards attacked the nearby parliament building.
The report citing witnesses said at least 30 shots were fired after a gunman entered the parliament building and was pursued by police. The assault came very near the room where the Canadian PM was meeting with members of his Conservative party, a government minister reportedly said.
Treasury board minister Tony Clement told a news agency: “PM (Harper) was addressing caucus, then a huge boom, followed by rat-a-tat shots. We all scattered. It was clearly right outside our caucus door.”
The incident, shocking in Canada’s normally tranquil capital, was not over. Parliament and buildings in downtown remained on lockdown.
The report citing a sppokesman said that Harper stressed that government and parliament should continue its work. “While the prime minister stated that facts are still being gathered, he condemned this despicable attack,” the spokesman reportedly said.
Police said that an operation was under way to make parliament safe and they were still in the middle of an active investigation.
“It caught us by surprise … If we had known that this was coming, we would have been able to disrupt it,” Gilles Michaud, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, (RCMP) told a news conference.
Dramatic video footage posted by the Globe and Mail newspaper showed police with guns drawn inside the main parliament building. At least a dozen loud bangs can be heard on the clip, echoing through the hallway.
Veterans affairs minister Julian Fantino, a former policeman, told the Toronto Sun that parliament’s head of security, Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, shot dead a suspected gunman.
“All the details are not in, but the sergeant-at-arms, a former Mountie, is the one that engaged the gunman, or one of them at least, and stopped this,” Fantino said.
Canadian cabinet minister Jason Kenney said a guard in parliament buildings was also wounded in the incident.
There was no word yet on the identity of any suspect or suspects. It was also unclear whether there was any connection to an attack on Monday when an Islamic convert ran down two Canadian soldiers with his car, killing one, near Montreal, before being shot dead by police in the first fatal attack on Canadian soil tied to Islamic militants.
It may be noted that Canada announced this month it was joining the battle against Islamic State fighters who have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.
Canada said on Tuesday it had raised the national terrorism threat level to medium from low because of a rise in “general chatter” from radical groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida but said there had not been a specific threat.
No group, Islamic or otherwise, have reportedly claimed the responsibility for either the attack in Ottawa or the one near Montreal.
Monday’s attacker, 25-year-old Martin Rouleau, who converted to Islam last year, was among 90 people being tracked by the RCMP on suspicion of taking part in militant activities abroad or planning to do so.
As the drama in Ottawa unfolded, police in dark bulletproof vests and carrying automatic rifles flooded the streets near parliament.
Members of parliament were told to lock or barricade themselves in their offices, and stay away from the windows.
The soldier who died in the shooting was taken into an ambulance in which medical personnel could be seen giving him cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Authorities did not identify him and it was not clear if he was armed or not when he was shot.
In Washington, a White House official said US President Barack Obama had been briefed on the situation. He said the United States had offered assistance to Canada.
(With Reuters Inputs)