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In Canada, Investigation Continues After Shooting Near Parliament


That is the sound of gunfire yesterday in the hall of one of Canada's Parliament buildings. Canada's capital, Ottawa, was stunned in lockdown after a gunman killed a soldier at a war memorial and then stormed the nation's parliament. The gunman was killed. Police spent much of yesterday searching for accomplices. They have not found any. Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper called this an act of terrorism. It was the second time this week that a member of Canada's military was killed by a suspected terrorist. NPR's Jackie Northam is in Ottawa, and she joins us on the line. Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: I know you got to the city, Ottawa, late last night, as I guess this city and its people were really beginning to digest what happened.

NORTHAM: Sure. I mean, its hard to believe what this city witnessed yesterday and really what a close call it was. The industry minister said Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with his party caucus, and there was gunfire right outside the door. So it was very close. And it was also a very chaotic scene yesterday. Today much of Ottawa is open again, but the area where the attacks took place is still off-limits to the public. It's called Parliament Hill, and it's right in the heart of this city. And the area includes, you know, the parliament buildings and the grounds, but also a war memorial where an honor guard was shot and killed yesterday. I drove near the area as I came in last night. And it was very quiet, much more quiet than it normally is. The Canadian police say they're still investigating whether other people were involved in the attack. And they're trying to piece together more information about the shooter.

GREENE: A shooter who, as you say, was that close to the nation's prime minister, which is really stunning. I mean, what do they know at this point about who this man was?

NORTHAM: Police here believe the attacker was a 32-year-old man named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, and he was from Quebec. And he was a fairly recent convert to Islam. You know, he was also the son of a very senior official of Canada's immigration department. Canadian media say Zehaf-Bibeau had a number of convictions against him for assault and burglary and drugs and that there may have been a history of mental illness. But there were also reports that Zehaf-Bibeau was recently designated a high-risk traveler by Canadian intelligence. The big thing here, though, David, is determining whether Zehaf-Bibeau was acting alone or whether this attack was part of a larger, organized plot. And we understand that the intelligence agency here in Canada is working with its American counterparts on this case.

GREENE: And one of the things I imagine they're looking at is whether there is some kind of connection to what we saw a couple days ago. There were two soldiers in Quebec, they were run over by a man. The authorities were investing for terrorism links. The attacker, one of the soldiers died. I mean, is there a link here to that incident?

NORTHAM: That's not confirmed at this point. Obviously that's something the intelligence community is looking into. You know, it could just be a coincidence, but certainly it did raise concern that the attacks happened so closely together. You know, this is all happening at a critical point for Canada. The attacks come as Canada says its going to help in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And Canada is contributing aircraft and personnel to that effort. And ISIS, or the Islamic State, has called for attacks on members of the coalition, and that would include Canada. The government here was also talking about strengthening the country's antiterrorism laws. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the nation last night saying that the country would not be intimidated by these attacks and that in fact the government would redouble its efforts in the fight against terrorism.

GREENE: Jackie, you were raised in Canada. I know, being your colleague, that its something you're very proud of. I wonder as you watch this country react and respond yesterday, what was on your mind?

NORTHAM: You know, David, I think the attacks are going to be a real wake-up call for many Canadians, especially here in Ottawa. You know, this is not a big city. And compared to other capitals in the world, Ottawa is not exactly sleepy, but it just - it's quiet. It's just a pleasant, very pretty city. And I know this area where the attacks took place. You know, there's always people milling about. And it's easy to walk right up to the front doors of Parliament. But you can see where it would be a pretty easy target. And so for something like this to happen is really out of character. The city mayor says there have only been five murders so far this year. So it'll be interesting to see how Ottawa - how Canada - responds.

GREENE: Only five murders this year? It's a city not used to violence at all.

NORTHAM: Yes, indeed.

GREENE: NPR's Jackie Northman in Ottawa. Jackie, thanks a lot.

NORTHAM: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.