OTTAWA (Reuters) - A gunman attacked Canada's parliament on Wednesday, with gunfire erupting near where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking, and a soldier was fatally shot at a nearby war memorial, stunning the Canadian capital.
The gunman in the parliament building was shot dead, and Harper was safely removed in incidents that may have been linked to Islamic militants.
Witness accounts indicated the man who shot dead the soldier guarding the National War Memorial in central Ottawa, went on to attack the parliament building minutes later. Canadian police said however they could not "at this point" confirm it was the same person.
The shootings followed an attack on two soldiers in Quebec on Monday carried out by a convert to Islam. Two U.S. officials said U.S. agencies had been advised the dead gunman in Wednesday's shootings was also a Canadian convert to Islam.
Witnesses said a flurry of shots were fired after a gunman entered the parliament building, pursued by police.
The assault took place very near the room where Harper was meeting with members of his Conservative party, a government minister said.
"PM (Harper) was addressing caucus, then a huge boom, followed by rat-a-tat shots. We all scattered. It was clearly right outside our caucus door," Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement told Reuters.
The incident, shocking in Canada's normally tranquil capital, began shortly before 10 a.m. ET and was not over late in the afternoon. Parliament and buildings in downtown remained on emergency lockdown at 6 p.m.
Canadian police were investigating a man named as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as a possible suspect in the shootings, a source familiar with the matter said. U.S. government sources said the suspect was born Michael Joseph Hall but later changed his legal family name to Zehaf-Bibeau.
Security in Ottawa came under criticism after the gunman was able to run through the unlocked front door of the main parliament building. Police said an operation was under way to make parliament safe.
"It caught us by surprise... If we had known that this was coming, we would have been able to disrupt it," Gilles Michaud, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, (RCMP) told a news conference.
It was unclear whether there was any connection between Wednesday's shootings and an attack on Monday when a convert to Islam ran down two Canadian soldiers with his car, killing one, near Montreal, before being shot dead by police in the first fatal attack on Canadian soil tied to Islamic militants.
No group, Islamic or otherwise, claimed responsibility for either the attack in Ottawa or the one near Montreal. Monday’s attacker, 25-year-old Martin Rouleau, who converted to Islam last year, was among 90 people being tracked by the RCMP on suspicion of taking part in militant activities abroad or planning to do so.
Canada announced this month it was joining the battle against Islamic State fighters who have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.