The Attack On Canada’s Parliament And The Lone Wolf Terrorist

Yesterday's apparent terrorist shooting in Ottawa reveals again a phenomenon that seems difficult if not impossible to stop in advance.

Ottawa Shooting 20141022

For most of the day yesterday, the area around Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada was locked down as tight as a drum as police and Federal authorities continued a search related to the shooting that occurred yesterday at the Canadian War Memorial and the shooting spree that echoed through the halls of Parliament, forcing M.P.’s, Senators, and members of the press into lockdowns in various parts of the building that weren’t completely lifted until nearly twelve hours after the attack. Within hours, we knew that at least one person, a Canadian Armed Forces Reservist named Corporal Nathan Cirillo had been killed in the initial minutes of the incident. The one known shooter, it turns out, had been killed within minutes of entering the building via an entrance reserved for members and the press that apparently wasn’t very heavily guard by the quick-thinking Sgt. At Arms Kevin Vickers, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As with similar incidents here in the United States, though, for hours there were rumors and speculation that there had been more than one shooter involved in the incident, as well as reports of more incidents in the area immediately around Parliament Hill, that caused the police to keep their search for an “active shooter” alive for much of the day. By the time the day was over, it seemed clear that the shooter, who was identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32 year old with an apparent history of petty and drug related crimes who had recently converted to Islam and had been born Michael Joseph Hall before converting to Islam, had acted alone. In a speech last night, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the shooting an act of terrorism and tied it to an incident earlier in the week in Quebec where a man in a car deliberately ran down two members of the Canadian military, killing on eo of them, and it’s hard to disagree with him that this attack does have all the markers of a terrorist attack. What remains unknown at this point is what his motives were, whether he was motivated by some desire to be part of a terror campaign in the way the Boston Marathon bombers had been, or whether he was working in concert with or had any contact with anyone overseas.

Despite all of those unanswered questions, though, the incident has left Canada shocked and could have implications for Western policy in the Middle East going forward:

A sudden spasm of violence jolted the government center of Canada’s capital on Wednesday morning, as a gunman killed an honor guard soldier at a war memorial and then opened fire inside the nearby Parliament building, triggering a lockdown and hours of confusion in Ottawa.

The assault shocked a country that rarely experiences gun violence but has witnessed two attacks on members of its armed forces in recent days. Earlier this week, a soldier was killed in a hit-and-run that authorities have called an act of terrorism. In each case, the soldiers were targeted by individuals who had been barred from traveling abroad by Canadian authorities.

“We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday night in an address to the nation.

The gunman in Wednesday’s assault was identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old from Montreal, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials. He had recently been designated a “high-risk traveler” by the Canadian government and had his passport seized, the Globe and Mail reported. Later in the day, a U.S. law enforcement official said the gunman, a convert to Islam, had changed his name to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau from Michael Joseph Hall. He was also known as Abdullah Zehaf-Bibeau, the official said.

Shortly before 10 a.m., Zehaf-Bibeau, dressed in black, his face covered by a scarf, shot at point-blank range a soldier guarding the National War Memorial, according to eyewitnesses quoted in the Canadian media. The soldier was identified as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a reserve force regiment.

“He was an amazing guy,” said Michelle Howlett, 25, of Mississauga, who said she briefly dated Cirillo this summer. “He was a real sweetheart. He had a son and was a real great father. . . . He was an exceptional person. I can’t even believe this.”

Canadian authorities did not immediately tie the attack to terrorism. But it came two weeks after Parliament voted in favor of Canadian participation in the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq, and only days after a person — called a “radicalized” Canadian convert to Islam by the RCMP — struck two members of the Canadian military with his car in a Quebec parking lot, killing one of them.

The driver, named by authorities as Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25, was killed by police after a high-speed chase.

Police said Couture-Rouleau had been on a list of people being monitored by authorities as part of ongoing national security investigations. They said his passport was seized in June when he was prevented from boarding a commercial airliner to travel to Turkey, a route frequently used by militant recruits heading to Syria. Officials said they did not have sufficient cause to arrest him at that time.

The two attacks this week followed an Oct. 7 vote in Canada’s Parliament authorizing Harper to send Canadian forces to Iraq, where the United States, along with Persian Gulf and European allies, is conducting airstrikes against the militants in support of Iraqi security forces.

In a speech to lawmakers, Harper said that Canada would not deploy ground troops and noted that the Islamic State “has specifically targeted Canada and Canadians” and vowed “that we should not feel secure, even in our homes.”

While Zehaf-Bibeau’s motives and history remain unclear at this point, the incident has also raised the issue of Islamic extremism in Canada itself, which has been an issue of concern for Canadian and American authorities since September 11th and which seems to have been enhanced with recent concerns about westerners either going overseas to fight alongside ISIS forces, or making some effort to do so:

The threat of a “lone wolf” attack is a top concern for Western security agencies, including Canada’s. “Terrorism remains the leading threat to Canada’s national security,” wrote Steven Blaney, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, in a September report on the terrorist threat to the country.

“As of early 2014, the government was aware of more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and who were suspected of terrorism-related activities,” the report said.

While the idea that individuals are leaving their country of residence to take up arms in a foreign conflict is hardly new or unique to Canada, the report found that the number of people choosing to do so had picked up pace in recent months.

The report said Canadians had engaged in “training, fund-raising, promoting radical views and even planning terrorist violence.”

“Some extremist travelers remain abroad,” the report said. “Others have returned to Canada, while still others are presumed dead.” It said at least 30 “individuals with a Canadian connection” were involved in terrorist-related activity in Syria.

Michel Coulombe, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told lawmakers this month that the authorities were also looking into the activities of 80 people who had been radicalized, had traveled overseas and had returned home.

He said the government knew who these individuals were and where they were.

But he also cautioned calm, saying there was no intelligence indicating an imminent attack.

We’ve had our own version of the “lone wolf” attack here in the United States, of course. Most infamously, the Tsarnaev brothers acted largely alone to construct homemade bombs using readily available material that killed five and injured nearly 300 people at the Boston Marathon. While the elder brother had traveled to the Chechen region of Russia in the year before the attack where he apparently became radicalized and in turn radicalized his younger brother, there was no evidence that the attack was part of any broader conspiracy or that it had even been ordered, planned, or suggested by anyone outside of the tight circle of the two brothers. Less successfully, in 2010 Faisal Shahzad was captured in Times Square after having left a car packed with explosives in the middle of the heavily traveled area on a Saturday night. As it turns out, the bomb had not been constructed properly, but again Shahzad was someone who had traveled overseas prior to the attack and apparently trained in some way at a camp in Pakistan, but the attack appears to have been his idea and something which he carried out on his own. There have also, of course, been a number of attack plots broken up in the years since 9/11 by people similar to the Tsarnaev’s and Shahzad who were apparently inspired by Islamist rhetoric but were not working in concert with anyone overseas, although many of those plots ended up being law enforcement sting operations. If, as suspected, yesterday’s attack turns out to be another “lone wolf” attack, though, it will join a list of similar incidents in western nations in recent years by so-called “lone wolves.”

While much smaller in impact than a mass terror attack like 9/11, the Madrid train bombings, or the London bombings in 2005, they pose particular challenges precisely because they aren’t tied to any outside groups. As with the other incidents, there doesn’t appear to have been any warning about yesterday’s attack that Canadian law enforcement or intelligence authorities could have acted on. Certainly, the call from an Imam overseas for Canadian Muslims to rise up against the government is something that caused the nation to raise its level of concern, but there doesn’t seem to have been any indication that Zehaf-Bibeau was on anyone’s radar as a potential security risk, or that he had had any contact with anyone outside of Canada. The same, of course, was true of the Tsarnaev brothers outside of the fact that the elder brother had traveled to Russia, but even that fact wasn’t enough justification for the F.B.I. to conduct more than a cursory examination of the man, and would not have been sufficient legal justification to detain him or put him under more intense surveillance that may or may not have uncovered the plot that led to the bombing at the marathon. That means that the Tsarneav’s were able to carry out their attack without anyone being the wiser, and the same appears to have been the case with Zehaf-Bibeau.

The biggest problem with the lone wolf terrorist, of course, is that there doesn’t seem to be much that law enforcement can do about them. Attacks on terrorist sites overseas isn’t going to stop them, and indeed may only serve to inspire them to attack in the first place. Absent someone who may become aware of what they’re planning, or the rhetoric they’re using in private, who tips off the police, there’s almost know way to know that an attack might becoming. Related to the lone wolf issue, of course, is the question of westerners who have gone overseas to fight alongside of groups like ISIS and who could, thanks to their passports, return home and become lone wolves themselves. Obviously, its essential to identify who those people are and react accordingly, but the bigger danger may be from the guys like the Tsarnaev’s and Zehaf-Bibeau who float completely under the radar and only pop up when they’re ready to unleash an attack. There doesn’t seem to be much you can do to stop that.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Middle East, National Security, Policing, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Well at least the bed-wetters now have something to be afraid of besides the non-existent Ebola plague they were crying about last week.
    I suggest we wall off the entire country … no one comes or goes.
    Oh wait … that wouldn’t have stopped McVeigh. Maybe they think he doesn’t count because he’s white.

  2. bill says:

    the story faded quickly, just another angry muslim-not “workplace violence”….nothing to see.
    @C. Clavin: they’re going to need something shiny for the dumb crowd, the news from fergusen isn’t looking all that good for the crowd who loots liquor stores to voice their discontent.

  3. Just Me says:

    I suspect we will see more of the lone wolf type acts than the highly organized ones. The anti terrorism efforts can catch and shut down planned attacks (not always but we know for a fact some have been stopped before they were carried out). Lone wolf acts though aren’t really monitorable.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: Yes. And thank you for the reminder that the Tsarnaev brothers are hardly the most infamous lone wolf attackers in the US.

  5. @bill:

    the story faded quickly, just another angry muslim-not “workplace violence”….nothing to see.

    Indeed. This story is getting no coverage.

    One thing is for sure: the press hates talking about violence and shootings and never, ever speculates or expounds on issues that might be linked to terrorism.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Why aren’t you whining about the white college kids in NH who tore up their town…for no reason at all.
    Oh…right…they are white.
    Never mind.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    McVeigh is the easy one.
    The term “Lone Wolf” itself comes from a couple Republicans white supremacists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger, who in the ’90’s advocated individual and/or small-cell activity….they had wet-dreams of

    “…warriors acting alone or in small groups who attacked the government or other targets in ‘daily, anonymous acts…”

    They referred to these warriors as “lone wolves”.
    Top of the charts in the Lone Wolf category has to be pro-lifer Scott Roeder murdering obstetrician George Tiller. With all respect to Dr. Tiller, the irony is too awesome not to love.
    Other prominent American Lone Wolf’s include:

  8. C. Clavin says:

    I’ve been put in moderation…I assume for too many links…although I think they are pertinent.
    Please release me, set me free….

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Interesting Daily Beast article on whether we have reached “Peak ISIS.” (Of course I was saying it in August, but whatever.)

    Al-Baghdadi – the self-appointed Caliph of Dirtistan – issued a call some time ago for lone wolf attacks. Of course we don’t know yet if this was connected, but now that ISIS is beginning to see how screwed they are I’d imagine their leadership will renew such calls. Won’t accomplish anything of course unless it provokes us into taking our eye off the ball. The American right wing will do all it can to help ISIS by panicking and running around in circles throwing their own scat in the air, but despite that possibility, I like where we are, all things considered. Lone wolf attacks are an irritant, but only that.

  10. beth says:

    @bill: Yes I guess CNN is doing their shows live from Ottowa and sent Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo up there because it’s just such a beautiful city. No news coverage at all, indeed.

  11. Scott says:

    @C. Clavin: Let’s not forget Eric Frein who is currently on the loose in Pennsylvania for shooting state troopers.

  12. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: But just to be safe, we all need guns to protect ourselves, don’t we?

    /sarcasm off

  13. argon says:

    @C. Clavin:
    And semi-lone wolves like those involved in the Beltway sniper incidents.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    Salon has an excerpt from the Gabby Giffords book…that shows how hard it is to get the cowards in Congress to act…even on a minimal, common sense measure like the Manchin-Toomey bill.

  15. Surreal American says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Maybe those Pumpkin-fest rioters would have been better off under slavery.

    /Cliven Bundy

  16. JKB says:

    Once again a killer with a gun is stopped by a good guy with a gun, not police who were rushing to the scene but were behind, not in front of the killer. All in on big, happy?, gun-free zone.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    WTF? The Sargeant of Arms, a former RCMP…is a civilian?
    Anyway…annocdotes don’t make data…but if you want to play silly games….

  18. CB says:


    That just blows my mind. You have a real, genuine, die hard, true blue terrorist running around the woods, already shot two cops, and it gets back page treatment. What would the odds of that be if his last name were Abdallah?

  19. george says:


    The sergeant at arms isn’t just ceremonial – he’s part of the Parliamentary security system. So no, not a civilian.

    This should have been obvious. Civilians aren’t allowed to carry weapons in legislative buildings in most places (try carrying one without authorization in the White House if you doubt).

    He’s been treated as a hero in Canada (and rightly so, though he wasn’t the only security force person shooting and hitting the attacker), but no one is using it as an example of why civilians should be free to carry weapons – even those who want that (not that many in Canada, we’re more into rifles and shotguns, as they’re more useful – as we say, don’t bring a handgun to a rifle fight) know he’s an official and not an example of a citizen with a gun.

  20. Scott says:

    @CB: Well, I kind of disagree. We tend to use terrorist too loosely. I prefer the term terrorist to include the use of violence for political ends. Frein just may be a malcontent, a criminal, or a nut job. No one seems to know. OTOH, you right in the sense that to discuss right wing terrorism in this country is considered politically incorrect and usually quickly suppressed by the right.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    I wonder how many of these cases are really the equivalent of suicide by cop? The guy sounds like he was such a loser that if he hadn’t been radicalized he might have done something like this anyway.

    Ditto for the Tsarnaev brothers. Last century we had bunches of “anarchists” running around shooting people. Now we have “radical Moslems”. I get the sneaky feeling that we’re always going to have a percentage of young idiots running around finding some cause to glom onto to have a justification for killing people.

    Then we have the even bigger idiots like those three girls from Colorado trying to run off to join ISIS. ( If I were the authorities, I’d spank them all soundly and send them out in the fields to pick weeds for a few years–that’s about the level of cerebration they seem to have reached.)

  22. C. Clavin says:

    Seeing as you brought it up…
    Gun control in Canada from Wikipedia:

    Controls on civilian use of firearms date from the early days of Confederation, when justices of the peace could impose penalties for carrying a handgun without reasonable cause.[1] Criminal Code of Canada (Criminal Code or Code criminel) amendments between the 1890s and the 1970s introduced a series of minor controls on firearms. In the late 1970s, controls of intermediate strength were introduced. In the mid-1990s, significant increases in controls occurred. A 1996 study showed that Canada was in the mid-range of firearm ownership when compared with eight other western nations. Nearly 22% of Canadian households had at least one firearm, including 2.3% of households possessing a handgun.[2] As of September 2010, the Canadian Firearms Program recorded a total of 1,831,327 valid firearm licences, which is roughly 5.4% of the Canadian population.

    Canada has about .5 homicides by gun per 100,000 people per year…and 1.6 suicides.
    The US has about 3.6 homicides by gun per 100,000 people per year…and 6.3 suicides.
    I know you are fact and math challenged…but that means the US has over 7 times the rate of homicides by gun.
    I think maybe we could regulate that militia a little better than we do currently, eh?

  23. C. Clavin says:

    Like Doug said in his post…you can’t stop a lone wolf intent on attacking the Government.

    “…I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere…” state Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said; “…I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important…”

  24. michael reynolds says:


    Had the shooter been an American he would of course have been embarrassed to show up with a lousy shotgun. Had it been you, I’d have expected body armor, an AK with extended clips, and various handguns. No American wanna-be mass murderer would have had a single death to show for it – he’d have his NRA membership suspended.

  25. CB says:


    I was thinking about just that after I hit post, and you’re right, it’s just an educated guess on my part. Without knowing the motive, it’s hard to ascribe Frein’s actions to terrorism. I wouldn’t bet against it though. I just hope they find that POS soon. I have family just a few miles from the search area, and they sure as hell feel terrorized.

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I think there’s one thing we can agree on: when someone with a history of violence converts to Islam, it seldom ends well.

  27. Tom Metzger says:

    Its silly for Canadians or Americans to whine about “WHY US? WE ARE SUCH A PEACEFUL NATION”. YOUR SYSTEM KEEPS MURDERING MILLIONS.I am very surprised that their aren’t hundreds of such incidents on a monthly basis. I am sure mideast Semites would simply say “PAY BACKS BITCH.Pleasant dreams!

  28. Mikey says:

    Cpl Nathan Cirillo was 24. His son is six years old. He was standing guard at Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when he was killed.

    Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier isn’t like ours in America. Here, if you try to get close, cross the chain, you will see the muzzle end of a rifle. I have seen it happen. The soldiers who guard our Tomb are deadly serious business.

    Canada’s Tomb is accessible. You can walk right up to it and lay flowers on it if you want–this is also something I have seen happen. I was there once in the evening and there wasn’t even a guard. When there is a guard, they have weapons, but they are ceremonial. No ammunition, dulled bayonets. Why should they need anything more? They wear super-spiffy uniforms with that manliest of garment, the kilt. You can talk to them, get pictures with them, they will answer any question you have about the Tomb and the War Memorial.

    Now Cpl Cirillo is gone, his young son fatherless, in part because Canada’s welcoming culture allowed a scumbag to walk right up and shoot him.

    I hope Canadians don’t change that culture. And I hope if there’s some kind of Hell, Zehaf-Bibeau goes to it and is able to understand he failed.

    Rest in peace, honorable brother-in-arms, Cpl Nathan Cirillo.

  29. Mikey says:

    @Tom Metzger: Piss off, terrorist apologist.

  30. C. Clavin says:

    Um…no…if he is who he claims to be…he is in fact a terrorist.
    Follow the link in his name to his website…or just read this link.
    Any coward who has to hide under a white sheet should indeed piss-off.
    But Florack is probably excited.

  31. C. Clavin says:

    Or it could just be Jenos trolling….

  32. Tom Metzger says:

    The only sheet I hide under is at your girlfriends house.

  33. C. Clavin says:

    Yup…Jenos trolling.

  34. Tyrell says:

    @C. Clavin: Let’s take a look and think about some infamous, horrendous serial killers of the past: John W. Gacy, Jeff Dahmer, Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy, Dr. Lector (not his real name), Boston Strangler, the Cleveland killer, and that Williams guy in Atlanta: these murderers did not use automatic, military assault rifles. Two of the most notorious killers of all: Ed Gein – not a serial killer, but the subject of films and books. He used various tools and a shot gun. Gein was certainly as looney as they come and remained confined in a mental asylum until his death: a model prisoner ! And Jack the Ripper, whose choice of weapons was surgical knives. Someday his identity will be finally uncovered. One theory has credence that he was a member of the royal family !
    See my point here ?

  35. C. Clavin says:

    There’s a huge difference between serial killers and terrorists.
    Apples and orangutans.
    What’s your point? We should focus on the numbers? Climate change will kill more than both combined.

  36. tilly00 says:

    @C. Clavin: Tom Metzger not only isn’t a terrorist, he isn’t a white supremist. He does not advocate violence. He is not a member of any group. He merely has a radio show that advocates for the rights of white gentiles – who have been assaulted, slandered, you name it – mainly by other white gentiles who’ve been brainwashed into self-hatred. I urge you to listen to some of his radio show, which you can do for free at His shows are not rants. They deal with history, health news, humor, economics. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  37. beth says:

    @tilly00: Dude, his Wikipedia page is titled Tom Metzger (White Supremacist).

  38. C. Clavin says:

    He was the grand poohbah of the KKK in the ’70’s.
    I guess that’s not a group.
    Educate yourself.

  39. C. Clavin says:


    He merely has a radio show that advocates for the rights of white gentiles – who have been assaulted, slandered, you name it – mainly by other white gentiles who’ve been brainwashed into self-hatred.

    That’s awesome sauce.

  40. C. Clavin says:

    Grand Wizard….how f ‘ing geeky is that?
    Gandolf the White Wizard?
    Sorry…didn’t mean to insult geeks.

  41. CB says:


    I almost gave that a thumbs up just because WOW.

  42. Tom Metzger says:

    />Wikipedia is controlled by those that hate Tom Metzger’s view’s…Did you ever try to correct anything on wikipedia?It will be change back the next day.’I have tried many times..

  43. Eric Florack says:

    It is, I think, worth noting that the difference between the shooter at Newtown and the shooter in the Canadian Paliment is, Parliment isnt a gun free zone, and that as a direct result far fewer people died.

    argue that one, if you like.

  44. tilly00 says:

    @C. Clavin: Compared with the gangs that are destroying nearly every city, the KKK looks like a group of Boy Scouts. There is no shame in having been brainwashed. At the age of 5 or 6 it begins. You are subjected for around six hours a day to an adult with an agenda. That is, you begin school. It’s not your fault. A kid doesn’t have a chance against an adult. To make it worse, the more intelligent you are, the easier it is to brainwash you. But you can free your mind. Listen to some of Tom Metzger’s shows and judge for yourself. Also, check out to see who is committing criminal acts. Hint: It’s not the KKK.

    Over and out

  45. pylon says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Parliament is a gun free zone unless you are on the security staff.

    And the shooter had a farm gun with a limited capacity, loadable one bullet at a time (it was a 30-30, not a shotgun). Which probably helped in avoided indiscriminate shooting – he had to be careful with ammo.