Canadian parliament locked down, one suspect reported dead
(Reuters) – A gunman shot and wounded a soldier in Ottawa on Wednesday and then entered the country’s parliament buildings chased by police, with at least 30 shots fired in dramatic scenes in the heart of the Canadian capital.
A suspected gunman was shot dead inside the parliament building, a government minister said.
It was not clear whether the suspect had acted alone. Ottawa police said they were actively looking for one or more suspects.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in a caucus meeting in parliament when gunfire erupted in the building, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, a former policeman, told the Toronto Sun.
Harper was later safely removed from the building, and parliament was locked down.
Fantino said parliament’s head of security, Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), had shot a suspect dead.
“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. “He did a great job and, from what I know, shot the gunman and he is now deceased.”
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.
As the drama enfolded, police in dark bulletproof vests and automatic weapons flooded the streets near parliament.
Some took cover behind vehicles, and shouted to people to clear the area, saying: “We do not have the suspect in custody. You are in danger here.”
Members of parliament were told to lock themselves in their offices, and stay away from the windows.
“If your door does not lock, find a way to barricade the door, if possible. Do not open a door under any circumstances,” said a security alert issued by parliament officials.
People in downtown Ottawa should stay away from windows and off roofs due to an “ongoing police incident,” the RCMP cautioned in a statement.
All cell phones in the area were blocked.
The wounded soldier was taken into an ambulance in which medical personnel could be seen giving him cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
The shooting came two days after an Islamic convert ran down two Canadian soldiers with his car, killing one, near Montreal, before being shot and killed by police.
A construction worker on the scene in Ottawa told Reuters he heard a gunshot, and then saw a man with a scarf over his face running towards parliament.
“He was wearing blue pants and a black jacket and he had a double barreled shotgun and he ran up the side of this building here and hijacked a car at gunpoint,” construction worker Scott Walsh told Reuters.
The driver got out safely, then the man drove the car to the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, where construction work is underway, Walsh said.
The suspected gunman rushed past a woman with a child in a stroller, who ran away screaming. He did not attack the woman or child, he said.
Centre Block is the main building on Parliament Hill, a sprawling complex of buildings and open space in downtown Ottawa. It contains the House of Commons and Senate chambers as well as the offices of some members of parliament, senators, and senior administration for both legislative houses.
One member of parliament, Mark Strahl, tweeted from inside parliament: “Very tense situation in Ottawa this morning. Multiple gun shots fired outside of our caucus room. I am safe and in lockdown. Unbelievable.”
Security on Parliament Hill is fairly low-key, compared with Capitol Hill in Washington. Anybody could walk right up to the front door of parliament’s Centre Block with arms and explosives without being challenged before entering the front door, where a few guards check accreditation.
The room where the caucus of the governing Conservatives meets with Prime Minister Stephen Harper is perhaps 100 feet (30 meters) from that door.
The Canadian military closed its bases across the country following the events in Ottawa, CBC TV said.
(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins,; Writing by Andrea Hopkins and Frances Kerry; Editing by Amran Abocar; and Peter Galloway)