OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadians returned to the reopened grounds of their parliament building on Saturday, three days after a homegrown radical rushed in armed with a rifle after killing a soldier in the second domestic attack in a week on the country’s military.
The grounds of the hilltop gothic building, whose clock tower is a centerpiece of Ottawa’s skyline, attracted scores of visitors, many still stunned by Wednesday’s attack, which took place as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with lawmakers.
The attacks on Monday and Wednesday were the work of Canadian citizens, reportedly recent converts to Islam, who appear to have operated independently, police said.
The first victim, 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, died when a man ran him over with a car in Quebec, while the second, 24-year-old Corporal Nathan Cirillo, was gunned down while standing a ceremonial watch at a monument to Canada’s war dead near Parliament Hill.
Police presence was light at the grounds, which had been closed to the public since Wednesday. The parliament building itself remained closed, but House Speaker Andrew Scheer said it would reopen for tours and visits on Monday.
“The very fact of us being here on this spot means they did not win,” said 41-year-old Toronto teacher Franco Ferrari, who had brought his son and his sons friends to Ottawa on Thursday night.
“I wanted them to see this,” Ferrari said. “I wanted to show them that we will not be bullied.”
National Hockey League teams in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto held coordinated tributes to the two soldiers during their home games on Saturday night.
The Ottawa Senators, who were hosting the New Jersey Devils, formed a circle at center ice with players from both teams joining in a show of unity as armed forces personnel and first responders marched into the center of their circle bearing a Canadian and a U.S. flag.
Canada did not share some intelligence with the United States about the two men who launched the attacks because of a 2013 court ruling limiting the transfer of personal data, a Canadian official said on Saturday.
The United States and Canada share the world’s largest undefended border and for decades have also exchanged information about people deemed to be high risks.
The attackers, 32-year-old gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, described as troubled and drug-addicted, and 25-year-old Martin Rouleau, who drove over two soldiers, one of whom survived, both developed their radical views in Canada, police said.
Both men were shot and killed by security officers.
On Saturday, Zehaf-Bibeau’s mother said her son had intended to travel to Saudi Arabia, not Syria, as previously stated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In a letter to Postmedia news agency, Susan Bibeau said she believed her son acted out of despair and not “on behalf of some grand ideology.”
The attacks came as Canada deployed additional planes to the Middle East to take part in a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Canadian officials vowed on Friday to toughen laws against terrorism, but critics warned against moves that would curtail civil liberties in a country that prides itself on its openness.
The attacks appeared to provoke vandalism at a mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta, more than 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) west of Ottawa. Windows on a mosque were found smashed on Friday, with the words “Go home” spray-painted on the building.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau on Saturday condemned the incident.
“The vandals who carried out these acts are criminals and cowards,” Trudeau said, “and their actions run counter to basic Canadian values.”
A crowd of several dozen people assembled in downtown Montreal on Saturday for an impromptu memorial to Cirillo and Vincent, leaving flowers and signing memorial books that had been left in tribute to the slain soldiers.
“What happened this week with the murder of those two military is a turning point in our history,” said Louise Beaudry, the 65-year-owner of a translation agency, who attended the Montreal event. “We need to revise the way the security is organized for everybody in the country ... We need to be realistic.”
Writing by Scott Malone and Euan Rocha; Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Lisa Von Ahn and Marguerita Choy