Ottawa (Michael Zehaf-Bibeau) Gunman’s Radicalism Deepened as Life Crumbled


Ottawa (Michael Zehaf-Bibeau) Gunman’s Radicalism Deepened as Life Crumbled
By MICHAEL WINES and WILLIAM YARDLEY/OCT. 24, 2014/The New York Times

OTTAWA — A loner. A drug addict. A criminal. A drifter. And lately, an Islamic radical.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the bearded, 32-year-old gunman who was shot dead Wednesday after killing a soldier and storming Canada’s Parliament, aptly fit each of those descriptions. In the tumultuous wake of what Canada’s prime minister has called a terrorist act, Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s radicalism has become the defining one.
ser examination of his past draws a somewhat different portrait: one of an increasingly troubled, mentally unstable man who initially may have embraced religion not as a political cause, but as an attempt to scaffold a disintegrating life.
Much remains unknown about the assault, including how Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, a convicted criminal, managed to acquire the single-action Winchester deer-hunting rifle he used in the attack, killing a ceremonial guard, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, at the National War Memorial and leaving three people in the national parliamentary complex lightly injured. Investigators have said they do not know whether he acted spontaneously or deliberately, or why.
The law enforcement authorities also say they have yet to find anyone who assisted Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau. And on Thursday, the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police suggested that his principal motivation was frustration over his failure to secure a passport, apparently so he could join Islamist fighters in Syria.
Indeed, a counselor at a Vancouver Salvation Army shelter, Paul Jarjapka, said Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had told him as much before setting off to Ottawa last month. Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had become exasperated over passport issues, he said in an interview, adding that his understanding was that he “was going to address that.”
That would fit an emerging pattern of terrorist acts not just in Canada, but throughout the West: homegrown zealots, often disaffected young men who have embraced radical Islam and act alone, or without evidence of direct aid from foreign jihadist groups. One such act occurred on Monday, when a 25-year-old man who had recently adopted radical Islam ran over two Canadian soldiers near Montreal, killing one. On Thursday, another attack bearing similar characteristics occurred in Queens, when a man attacked two police officers with a hatchet.
One analyst of terrorism and intelligence, Wesley Wark of the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International affairs, said he believed the terrorist threat posed by Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had been politically overblown. But the proliferation of homegrown terrorism is, for now, a more pressing danger than the threat of attacks by foreign groups, he added. “We’ve been forced to recalibrate and rethink.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asserted that Monday’s automobile attack in Quebec was inspired by calls from the Islamic State to kill Canadians and foreigners from other nations battling the movement’s advance in Syria and Iraq. While that remains unproven, some analysts say the group has deftly seized on the attacks to make it appear as if they have cadres of supporters abroad without having built an infrastructure to support them.
“The Al Qaeda ‘fan boys’ never did this, definitely not in so coordinated a fashion in so close a time,” said Will McCants, a scholar of Islamist militancy at the Brookings Institution. Al Qaeda’s constant calls for Muslims in the West to instigate their own attacks “fell on deaf ears” but “the ISIS guys are just really energized,” said Mr. McCants, using a common acronym for the group that now calls itself the Islamic State.
Since the Western-led airstrikes began in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State’s social media message to Muslims living in the West has changed sharply, from “come join the attack” to “we are being attacked and what are you doing? You are just sitting there!” said Mokhtar Awad, a researcher at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington who was visiting Cairo.
“They are trying to shame Muslims,” he said. “ ’If you can’t join us over here, at least do what you can over there.’ ”
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau appears to have come to Ottawa this month to get the papers he needed to travel to Syria, where Islamic State forces are deeply involved in that nation’s civil war. Besides seeking a Canadian passport to leave the country, Canadian news organizations reported on Friday, he sought unsuccessfully to renew an expired Libyan passport that could have enabled him to travel in the Middle East.
Details of Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s life are hard to come by. But his radicalism seems only to have strengthened as his grip on ordinary life grew weak. And his hold appears to have begun to slip in the late 1990s, when his family fell apart.
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s parents are from starkly different backgrounds: His father, Bulgasem Zehaf, was born in Tripoli, Libya, in 1955, according to court records, and had been married and divorced. It is not clear when he arrived in Canada, but for about a decade, he ran a cafe — named after the city of his birth — on a street near McGill University in downtown Montreal.
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s mother, Susan Bibeau, was born in Montreal in 1961, and gave birth to her son in 1982 in Laval, a Montreal suburb. His parents married when he was 6. His early life was so nondescript that the headmaster of his private high school, Collegel Laval, was unable to remember him even after consulting yearbooks.
“He was a student without a history,” said the headmaster, Michel Baillargeon. “He would not stand out.”
That would soon change. In late 1998, Mr. Zehaf filed for divorce from Ms. Bibeau, citing adultery, and they divorced in 1999. Ms. Bibeau was granted primary custody of Michael, then about 16, living in their Laval home. A neighbor recalled that the son “was always throwing wild parties at night.”
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau transferred to a public high school. His yearbook photograph shows a smiling, heavy-lidded young man with a wisp of a mustache and hair parted in the middle.
It was around that time that he began to have run-ins with the law.
From 2001 to 2005, Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was arrested repeatedly: for stealing a credit card, for marijuana possession, for driving under the influence. He was sentenced to two years in prison for possessing a weapon related to a robbery, and served nine months, only to be arrested again and sent to jail for 60 days for possessing marijuana and PCP.
In 2007, he traveled to Libya, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Friday, using a Libyan passport he had acquired in 2000 by virtue of his father’s citizenship. Sometime after returning, he left Montreal and headed west; Ms. Bibeau, the deputy chairwoman of the immigration division of the Refugee and Immigration Board of Canada, said in a statement that until last week, she had not seen her son in five years.
He drifted to a tunnel-drilling job in British Columbia, then to a one-room flat in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. By 2011, he had converted to Islam and was praying at the Masjid al-Salaam and Education Center, an impressive mosque known for its community outreach programs involving Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Yet he did not remain there long. “He didn’t like the constant presence of non-Muslims there,” said Aasim Rashid, a spokesman for the British Columbia Muslim Association. “He thought it should be just Muslims.” Mosque leaders suggested that he pray elsewhere, and he left — but returned and somehow entered the mosque at night to sleep.
The mosque’s leaders changed the locks.
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s life was crumbling, and he responded with an odd act of desperation: in December 2011, he walked into a police station in Burnaby and said he had committed armed robbery in Montreal a decade earlier, and wanted to be jailed. The police could find no record of the robbery, and turned him away.
The next night, he tried to rob a McDonald’s restaurant with a sharpened stick. When the police were summoned, he sat outside to wait for them. “I’m a crack addict,” he told a judge, according to a court transcript, “and at the same time I’m a religious person, and I want to sacrifice freedom and good things for a year maybe, so when I come out I’ll appreciate things in life more and be clean.”
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau spent 66 days in jail, in part because he threatened to commit more crimes if released, but a psychiatric examination pronounced him “fit and not certifiable,” a prosecutor said in court.
In recent years, Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau regularly found refuge at the Beacon, a shelter in Vancouver run by the Salvation Army. Mr. Jarjapka, the counselor at the charity’s shelters, said he spoke with him often, and described him as immersed both in his faith and in a pitched struggle with addiction.
“He was doing heroin to take the edge off the crack,” he said.
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau spoke constantly of his frustration with the involvement of the United States in the Middle East, Mr. Jarjapka said, and the two feuded regularly over his support for the Islamic State. His arguments were extreme — American bombing in Syria was the moral equivalent of bombing a loaded school bus in the United States, he told Mr. Jarjapka — but they were not delusional.
“His viewpoint was bizarre,” he said. “The guy was not deranged. He was articulate. He was intelligent. His rationale was warped.”
Mr. Jarjapka said he last saw Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau about three weeks ago, when he appeared at the shelter’s front desk with his bags packed.
He said Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau told him, “I’m hitchhiking back east.”
Correction: October 25, 2014
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the Ottawa gunman at several points. As correctly noted elsewhere, he was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, not Zehar-Bibeau.
***Michael Wines reported from Ottawa, and William Yardley from Vancouver, British Columbia. Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Sarah Maslin Nir and Jeff Z. Klein from Ottawa; Jesse McKinley from Montreal; David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo; Rod Mickleburgh from Vancouver; and Alain Delaquérière from New York.

Another Canadian jihadi slips through the cracks
CBCCBC – 25/10/14
Yet another young Canadian has managed to get away to Syria to fulfil his aim of waging jihad and has boasted of his exploits online, an investigation by Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête has found.
This comes after news emerged that Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau — two men involved in the killings of two soldiers that shocked the country this week — had been blocked from leaving Canada over fears they planned to travel to the Middle East to join militant groups.
But an investigation by Enquête found that a young Montrealer named Sami did make the journey to Syria. His story was featured in a special edition of the CBC’sthe fifth estate Friday.
Enquête journalists began following the journey of Sami, whose last name is being withheld, with the help of the young man himself — via his active online presence.
On April 2, 2013, a photo of Istanbul was posted on the young Montrealer’s Facebook page.
Sami went to Turkey to wage jihad. Easily accessible, the country is the main gateway for foreigners who want to fight in Syria.
– the fifth estate: ‘The Fear Within’
It was a trip motivated by his return to his Islamic roots, which apparently happened in 2011.
Sami is part of a wave of Westerners leaving their homes in countries like Canada to join rebel groups fighting the al-Assad regime in Syria.
High-risk travellers
The RCMP say there are more than 90 people in Canada considered high-risk travellers who have shown an interest in going to the battle zones in places like Iraq and Syria.
Officials estimate 130 Canadians are fighting abroad, with at least 30 of them in Syria.
According to Canadian journalist and commentator Murtaza Hussain, part of what may have motivated them is Canada’s recent commitment in the fight against ISIS.
“You have these horrible events taking place in Syria with a dictatorship that’s oppressing society, and that will generate broad sympathy with people living over there,” he told the fifth estate’s Mark Kelley.
“Some people will be more galvanized to take part in it and from within that group of people a smaller group will be attracted to extremist ideologies and extremist reaction to that.
“When you talk about kids going over to join groups like Islamic State, you’re seeing people who are engaging in a nihilistic response to terrible circumstances.”
‘A lifestyle’
On Twitter, Sami wrote that “Islam should not be a style, but a lifestyle.”
At the time, Sami was active on social networks under the pseudonym El Sami, and under his fighter name, Abu Safwan (al Kanadi — or the “Canadian”).
On Facebook he posted, “They told me: There is only one life, you have to know how to live it. I answered: There is only one death, you have to know how to prepare it.”
On Facebook, Sami also posted about several Montreal mosques, including one in Pierrefonds where Enquête met someone who knew Sami “once he became religious.”
“It’s not since his adolescence, but since he’s been an adult. It’s from that point that he changed, because I know that before then, he was not like that,” the man said.
A criminal record
Sami was born in Montreal in 1988. His mother, a Quebecer, and his Syrian-born father divorced shortly afterward and Sami lived with his father from the age of 18 months.
Enquête had trouble finding anyone who remembered his time at École secondaire Dorval-Jean-XXIII, and he left home at a young age.
His last known address was in Pierrefonds, where Sami went from one job to another.
According to Enquête’s investigation, he called his father from time to time to give him an update or when he needed some money.
Someone close to the family said Sami had “many problems,” including drugs and alcohol.
Enquête discovered he also had problems with the law.
In 2010, Sami was involved in a violent assault. Following a fight in a bar, Sami and some accomplices entered the home of a couple by smashing down the door. They attacked the man.
“It was Sami who gave me the most violent swings,” said the victim.
Sami was convicted. The judge said the motive for the attack remained unclear, but he suspected a connection with drug trafficking.
In April 2013, Sami was to appear in court for another charge of assault, but he did not show up. An arrest warrant was subsequently issued.
A religious awakening
Benjamin Ducol, an expert in radicalization and social media and a researcher at Laval University, has interviewed several young jihadists and their families — mainly in France and Belgium.
“In almost all those who go to Syria to join jihadist groups, we always have this phase of religious awakening where people will finally rediscover their religion or will directly convert to Islam,” Ducol said.
“It’s a bit of a do-it-yourself kind of identity that occurs in these people. They learn the religion quickly — in an extremely superficial way.”
According to Hussain, this strain of Islam is highly attractive to young people like Sami.
“It offers camaraderie, a sense of purpose,” he told the fifth estate.
“It’s something you may get from a gang, but supercharged by the fact that your existential needs are met, too. It offers you a chance to be part of something greater than yourself and a way to expiate your past sins and be part of something that in your own mind seems to be righteous.”
The RCMP has taken an interest in Sami’s case. If he returns to Canada, he could face terrorism charges since the Canadian government has declared the al-Nusra Front to be a terrorist organization.

Body of Nathan Cirillo, Canadian Soldier Killed in Attack, Returns Home
By IAN AUSTEN/OCT. 24, 2014
The New York Times
OTTAWA — A motorcade returned the body of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo to his home city on Friday as more details emerged about events leading to his death at the National War Memorial, where a gunman fatally wounded him as he stood ceremonial guard.
At the same time the hearse carrying Corporal Cirillo’s remains, surrounded by police cruisers, departed a funeral home for Hamilton, Ontario, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and military leaders gathered at the war memorial for the resumption of the honor-guard deployment, suspended after the shooting on Wednesday.
The gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, entered the nearby Parliament complex after he shot the corporal, with police officers in hot pursuit. Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau died in a shootout in the Parliament halls as lawmakers hid and Mr. Harper, one door away from the gun battle, was whisked to safety.
Nathan Cirillo, Soldier Killed in Ottawa, Used Strength to Help OthersOCT. 23, 2014
Although more security guards and police officers traveled with Mr. Harper than was generally the case before Wednesday, he spoke with mourners who had gathered by the hundreds for Corporal Cirillo’s send-off. Some applauded Mr. Harper, who did not make any public remarks. But their most sustained ovation came after he left and the crowd swarmed toward the two soldiers who had taken up ceremonial guard positions.
A witness to the shooting, Barbara Winters, said in a radio interview Thursday evening that she had rushed to the corporal’s side as he lay wounded. Speaking with evident emotion on the CBC program “As It Happens,” Ms. Winters, a lawyer and former member of the Naval Reserve, said she had tried to keep Corporal Cirillo alive through CPR and encouragement.
“I hope it’s some comfort to his parents that he just didn’t bleed alone on a sidewalk, but that there was people talking to him and tried to help him,” she said.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Friday that Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had been turned down when he attempted to renew his Libyan passport at that country’s embassy in Ottawa this month.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Thursday that Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had applied for a Canadian passport to travel to Syria and that he had been frustrated by delays in the process.
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had a Libyan passport because his father is a Libyan, from suburban Montreal. The C.B.C. said Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had used a Libyan passport to visit Tripoli in 2007.
An official at the embassy was quoted by the C.B.C. as saying the renewal application was missing paperwork and that Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s appearance and manner had raised some concerns.
Several news outlets reported on Friday that Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had arrived without notice and after a decade without contact at his aunt’s lakeside house near Mont Tremblant, Quebec, on the eve of the shooting. She told La Presse, a Montreal newspaper, that they had dinner and he stayed the night before returning to Ottawa at about 7 a.m.
Canada began posting ceremonial guards at the war memorial in 2007, after two young men had been photographed urinating on the monument the previous summer. All branches of the armed forces take turns providing the sentries, who appear in ceremonial uniform with unloaded rifles and are often photographed by tourists.