Ottawa shooting: Imam urges Canadians not to give in to 'fear and mistrust'

In the wake of the gunman’s rampage, Tim Walker hears a call for calm from a leader of the Muslim community

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A leading Muslim cleric today urged Canadians not to give in to the growing “fear and mistrust” between communities in the wake of two fatal attacks on Canadian soil by men described as Islamic converts.

Imam Sikander Hashmi of Ottawa’s Kanata Muslim Association told The Independent, “Canada is a free and peaceful society. All Canadians cherish that and I hope our elected leaders will maintain it. But fear can get you a lot of votes.”

Canadian Muslim groups were quick to denounce the men responsible for the deadly incidents this week, saying their actions were in no way connected to Islam and its teachings. On Monday, Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25, ran down two soldiers in a Quebec car-park, injuring one and killing the other, 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Two days later, 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – like Couture-Rouleau, a recent convert to Islam – shot dead Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, an army reservist acting as an honour guard at the Canadian national war memorial in Ottawa. Zehaf-Bibeau then raced to the nearby Houses of Parliament, where he was eventually killed in a firefight with security officers.

As the gun battle raged in the hallways of government, Conservative MPs reportedly barricaded themselves in a caucus room, hid Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a cupboard and armed themselves with flagpoles fashioned into spears, should the attacker manage to burst through their makeshift defences.


Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, condemned both attacks, telling reporters on Thursday: “We stand united with Canadians in categorically condemning these cowardly and heinous acts. Our message to anyone who believes in violent extremist ideologies is that you have nothing to do with Islam.”

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau issued a statement reassuring the Muslim community that law enforcement would continue to work with and for them. “This is about one individual who committed a despicable act,” Chief Bordeleau wrote. “I want to reassure [groups] should there be any backlash that they notify us... We are there to continue to support them.”

At a meeting of Ottawa imams on Wednesday, Mr Hashmi said there were reports of Muslim children having been bullied at school as a result of the shootings, while at least one Ottawa woman in Islamic dress was verbally abused in public.

“The faith is under a microscope,” said Mr Hashmi. “But I believe most Canadians will see beyond the headlines and understand the majority of Muslims in Canada have nothing to do with this kind of behaviour. We’re lucky that we don’t have some of the characters that you do in the UK, who supposedly represent the Muslim community but are doing more harm than good. There is no Canadian Anjem Choudary.”

Mr Hashmi, 32, was born and raised in Canada. “I’m very visibly Muslim and have never felt excluded,” he said. “I refuse to change my appearance because I’m not going to fall for fear, and I think all Canadians should be like that.”

Flowers adorn a barricade around the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada (EPA)

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Harper vowed to introduce new terror legislation, promising greater powers for the country’s police and intelligence services. More than 100 Canadians are thought to have travelled to the Middle East in recent months, to fight on behalf of Isis, the extremist group that has taken over large swathes of Syria and Iraq. Before Wednesday’s attack, however, Zehaf-Bibeau was not included on a list of 90 Canadians being monitored by authorities and considered “high-risk travellers”.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said yesterday while Zehaf-Bibeau had become “radicalised” and was intending to travel to Syria before his attack, there was as yet no evidence to link him directly to Isis. Canada has announced it would send fighter jets and special forces to help in the US-led military campaign against the extremist group.

In New York City on Thursday, a man reportedly charged at four police officers wielding a hatchet, wounding one in the arm and another in the head before he was shot dead. The officers had been posing for a photo when the man struck. A 29-year-old female bystander was shot in lower back during the crossfire and taken to hospital.

Though the suspect, Zale Thompson, was described as a Muslim convert, investigators said there was nothing to indicate the attack was related to any radical religious views. New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged, however, that tensions had been raised by the attacks on uniformed men north of the border. “I think certainly the heightened concern is relative to that type of assault based on what just happened in Canada,” he said.