He was a recent convert to Islam and a petty criminal with a long rap sheet, including a string of drug offenses. In recent weeks, he had been staying in a homeless shelter, where he talked about wanting to go to Libya to get away from drugs but griped that he couldn't get a passport.
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A picture began to emerge Thursday of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau a day after the 32-year-old Canadian launched a deadly attack on Canada's seat of government that forced the country — again — to confront the danger of radicalized citizens in its midst.
In what the prime minister called a terrorist attack, Bibeau shot a soldier to death at Canada's tomb of the unknown Wednesday, then stormed the Parliament building, where he was gunned down by the sergeant-at-arms.
Abubakir Abdelkareem, 29, who often visited the Ottawa Mission, a homeless shelter downtown, said he met Zehaf-Bibeau there. He said Zehaf-Bibeau told him he had a drug problem in Vancouver but had been clean for three months.
Abdelkareem told The Associated Press that Zehaf-Bibeau wanted his passport to fly to Libya because he thought he could avoid drugs there. "As soon as I get it, I'm going to fly. ... Then there's no temptation," Abdelkareem quoted him as saying.
But in the past three days, "his personality changed completely," Abdelkareem said. "He was not talkative; he was not social" anymore and slept during the day, said Abdelkareem, who concluded the man was back on drugs.
Lloyd Maxwell, another shelter resident, said that Zehaf-Bibeau had lived for some time in Vancouver, then Calgary, then came to Ottawa specifically to try to get a passport, believing that would be more easily accomplished in the nation's capital.
"He didn't get it, and that made him very agitated," Maxwell said. Maxwell said that he suggested to the man that he might be on a no-fly list, and "he kind of looked at me funny, and he walked away."
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed on Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau had applied recently for a passport, but said it believes he intended to go to Syria.
Earlier this week, the Mounties said that there are about 90 people in the country who are suspected of intending to join the extremist fighting abroad or who have returned from such activity overseas. But RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau was not among them.
In an email to the AP expressing horror and sadness at what happened, Zehaf-Bibeau's mother, Susan Bideau, said that her son seemed lost and "did not fit in," and that she hadn't seen him for more than five years until having lunch with him last week.
"So I have very little insight to offer," she said.
In a brief and tear-filled telephone interview with the AP, Bibeau said that she is crying for the victims of the shooting rampage, not her son.
"Can you ever explain something like this?" said Bibeau, who has homes in Montreal and Ottawa. "We are sorry."
After initially reporting that two or three assailants may have taken part in the shooting rampage, Canadian police conceded Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau was the lone gunman.
The bloodshed raised fears that Canada is suffering reprisals — perhaps so-called lone-wolf attacks — for joining the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.
On Monday, a man described as an "ISIL-inspired terrorist" ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot to death by police. Before the attack, Canadian authorities feared he had had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
Preime Minister Stephen Harper noted that both attacks were carried out by citizens born in Canada.
"The fact of the matter is there are serious security threats in this country and in many cases those serious security threats continue to be at large and not subject to detention or arrest," he said.
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, said in Parliament that this week's attacks were probably "the acts of isolated, disturbed and deeply troubled men who were drawn to something crazy."
"I do not believe that it was a vast network, or that the country is more at risk today than it was last week," May said.
Court records that appear to be Zehaf-Bibeau's show that he had a long criminal record, with convictions for assault, robbery, drug and weapons offenses, and other crimes.
Meanwhile, Kevin Vickers, the 58-year-old Parliament sergeant-at-arms credited with shooting and killing Zehaf-Bibeau, got a rousing standing ovation in the House of Commons for saving lawmakers' lives. Vickers, dressed in his ceremonial robe and carrying his heavy mace, acknowledged the applause by nodding solemnly.
The former Mountie said in a statement that he was "very touched" by the attention but that he has the close support of a remarkable security team.