OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police missed chances to stop a gunman who stormed into Parliament last October after killing a soldier, an official probe said on Wednesday, adding that the attack could have been much worse.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a convert to Islam who said he wanted to punish Canada for sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, ran right past a room where the prime minister was meeting legislators. He was quickly shot dead by security forces.
The attack revealed many shortcomings on Parliament Hill, where the four different agencies responsible for security did not have a single radio frequency they could communicate on and rarely cooperated, according to the four-part probe.
“The approach to the security and protection of Parliament Hill is highly inadequate,” it said, citing a lack of planning, training and resources. The shootings “are a grim reminder that Canada is ill-prepared to prevent and respond to such attacks.”
The assault in the nation’s capital shocked a country with generally low rates of crime and prompted the government to unveil legislation boosting the power of authorities to prevent terror attacks.
Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, first shot dead a soldier at the War Memorial in central Ottawa on Oct. 22 and then made his way to the bottom of Parliament Hill, where he commandeered a car and headed for the Centre Block.
A policewoman spotted him and radioed a warning to a colleague near the building but the message was garbled, which meant no one stopped Zehaf-Bibeau from driving up to the entrance. The guards on duty immediately inside the doors were unarmed and could not stop the attacker.
Seconds later a group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police raced up to the front door of Centre Block and then stopped, since they were under standing instructions not to enter the building armed. They had to be ordered in by a supervisor.
“Systemic gaps allowed the gunman to make his way to Centre Block, not human error,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud told a news conference.
The probe said it was fortunate that Zehaf-Bibeau - a drug addict armed with an old rifle and a knife - had been unorganized.
“The end results could have been much worse with the likelihood of many more casualties,” it concluded.
In the wake of the attack, the RCMP took over primary responsibility for policing Parliament Hill, and security has been strengthened.
Armed police now stand on guard outside buildings and guided visits no longer take place when the prime minister meets legislators. Parliamentary staff have also received special security training.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby