Two killers, one twisted objective

The two men who killed Canadian soldiers didn’t know each other, but shared troubling—and revealing—similarities

A photo widely identified as alleged shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

A photo widely identified as alleged shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s parents live in a townhouse in a north end Montreal suburb. Martin Couture-Rouleau’s father lived in a similar cookie-cutter bungalow in the Montreal exurb of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. The two men were Muslims, responsible for the death of two Canadian soldiers in as many days. Both had earlier scrapes with the law—drunk driving in both cases, amongst other infractions—that spoke to their propensity for boozy transgression before their apparent conversion to a puritanical strain of Islam. Both had drifted away from family and loved ones for long periods in the lead up to their last violent acts.

There is no indication that Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau knew each other. Yet Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, and 25-year-old Couture-Rouleau, who struck and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent not 24 hours before Zehaf-Bibeau went on his rampage in Canada’s Parliament, share several similarities. It suggests Islamic State’s campaign to compel believers to commit what might be called “micro-terrorism” is successfully targeting one specific demographic. And it shows how this sort of terrorism—undertaken by lone individuals with little beyond their own bodies as weapons—is incredibly hard to predict and even more difficult to prevent.

First, here is what we know so far about Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. According to a joint letter written by his parents, Bulgasem Zehaf and Susan Bibeau, to the Associated Press, Zehaf-Bibeau had only recently reconnected with his parents after a prolonged silence. “You say that our son was vulnerable [but] we were unaware of this, [he] was lost and didn’t fit into a mould. Me, his mother, spoke to him last week during a dinner,” she writes, the same week as Zehaf-Bibeau’s 32nd birthday. “I hadn’t seen him for five years before this.”

His teenage years were apparently the picture of middle-class conformity. He grew up in the Montreal suburb of Laval and attended Collège Laval, a private high school, for his ninth grade. La Presse quotes his classmates remembering him as a funny and likeable fellow. He was “in the pot smokers’ gang not the jock gang,” said one. “He smoked pot at the time, and even took acid,” said another.

Susan Bibeau is Franco-Manitoban by birth. She serves as a senior official with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and is an expert on immigration law. Until 2004, Libyan-born Bulgasem Zehaf owned a café on Crescent Street, one of the city’s prime drinking strips (think Bourbon Street without the beads, and with plenty of spray tans). Meanwhile, according to court documents, his son racked up several charges between 2001 and 2006, including drunk driving, drug possession, and aggravated robbery. In 2012, while in Vancouver, he was given a two-month sentence for uttering threats.

By 2011, Zehaf-Bibeau had moved to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, where he worshipped at a Burnaby mosque, Masjid al-Salaam. There he met fellow worshipper David Bathurst, who operates an irrigation and landscaping business with his father, John. The Bathursts hired Zehaf-Bibeau that summer, but he lasted only two days on the job.

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“We feel awful,” says John Bathurst, whose phone has not stopped ringing since news broke about his company’s small connection to the Parliament Hill gunman. “I feel awful that some guy I was probably on a job site with did this to a soldier—and to Canada, because this is an assault on Canada.”

Daud Ismail, the chairperson of al-Salaam, broke into tears when told that the man who attacked the nation’s capital once prayed at his mosque. “All I can say to the Canadian public is I’m bleeding in my heart,” he said, his voice cracking.

“It’s sad. I feel for the families of the people performing their duties, and in the line of duty they face criminals like this. I want to assure the Canadian public, as far as our mosque is concerned, we have zero tolerance. Police should go after people like this and they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

David Bathurst hadn’t seen Zehaf-Bibeau in more than two years when he bumped into him at a Vancouver-area mosque six weeks ago. They had a brief conversation, says David’s father. “The guy was talking about going somewhere in the Middle East to study, and Dave just said: ‘Make sure you’re going there to study, and not to serve the devil’s terms,’ ” John says. “That was David’s advice to him, and he never saw him after that.”

Recently, Zehaf-Bibeau had been living at the Ottawa Mission homeless shelter, where he was teaching Islam to two other young men, bragging about his anti-Canadian views and claiming to be on a no-fly list. According to the RCMP, he dreamed of going to Syria to fight the infidels.

Likewise, Couture-Rouleau had himself preached Islam to his friends—some of whom he’d managed to convert, according to interviews conducted by blogger Dominic Arpin. However these friends began to back away from Couture-Rouleau once he began to speak of violence. One said Couture-Rouleau was a “ticking time bomb” on social media; his father, Gilles Rouleau, told TVA that he didn’t agree with his son’s conversion to Islam.

Couture-Rouleau had an outsized social media presence, making his conversion from beer-swilling partier all the more apparent. Both he and Zehaf-Bibeau, though, suffered through some sort of personal crisis along with their apparent religious awakenings. In Zehaf-Rouleau’s case, he cut himself off entirely from his family and, according to a friend of his interviewed by the Globe and Mail, was convinced that the devil was after him. For his part, Couture-Rouleau had let his small pressure-washing business wilt and had been in a custody battle over his three-year-old son.

Faith and personal crisis are a caustic mix, says Brian Jenkins, a senior researcher with the RAND Corporation. “Faith plays an undeniable role in the biographies of these individuals who carry out such attacks,” Jenkins says. “The specific ideology that makes it an individual duty to participate in an armed struggle between infidels and Islam certainly plays a part in that. But there is one common element again and again, and that’s personal crisis. They are at a crisis moment in their lives and embrace a radical ideology that resonates with them. It’s putting on a cloak of a new identity.”

By virtue of their solitary nature—”I don’t like ‘lone wolf’, I prefer ‘stray dogs,’ ” Jenkins says—catching people like Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau before they carry out attacks can be a special kind of hell. Says Jenkins: “It’s not like there’s an X-ray machine to see what a man is thinking.”

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Two killers, one twisted objective

  1. The only reason we had this attack, was because our government got complacent. They needed a C B C report to get the fire under their asses to take any kind of action. If your going to go to a war with terrorists or anyone for that matter, in a foreign country, laws, security and policies should have been put in place before we send our soldiers, and protect the Homeland[that’s common sense]. This conflict[Iraq] was started because a PMs polling numbers were in the tank, not because we were being attacked by jihadists. These incidents that took place this week, was nothing more than 2 people with mental illnesses who felt society has forgotten about them. Sometimes the crap that goes on in the HOCs, like Jason Kennys attacking Trudeau for visiting mosques, or even going after TFWs[TFWs come from these same countries of origin] can cause a resentment towards our government because they are feeling marginalized by this government. The tone needs to change in the HOCs, MPs and the government need to tone down the rhetoric stereotyping people who come to our country to live in a free and democratic society, not a country of marginalizing. This government needs to do a course in sensitivity training instead of its strident approach toward people who come and visit Canada from foreign countries. And I doubt this near death experience Steven Harper just went through, will change his strident approach. Just imagine all the money that went in to securing the PM and the HOCs since Harper has been elected, [has to be close to 30 mil a year] and it took a Sargent in Arms to take this guy down. Steven Harper has been in way over his head for the last 8 years, and we now have a PM who lives in a bubble inside of a bubble somewhere in Ottawa, who da thunk!

    • PS: I am not condoning the killings of the 2 soldiers this past week, I’m only making my point about how this government is doing foreign policy on the fly.

      • Is anyone surprised that someone like Carpet bomber cannot even wait for the bodies of the victims to cool before climbing atop the victims and blaming Harper?

        yeah…I’m not surprised he’d do this either.

        • I believe you were on here yesterday blaming Libs and Dippers, Jimmy.

          And no one is surprised at your hypocrisy.

          • I did not blame anyone for anything. What I did do however, was point out that the NDP and Libs are still unwilling to state the obvious when provided the evidence. They are still being wishy-washy about the cause of the attacks: ISLAM.

            As for my response to carpet bomber……I am not blaming him for the attacks, but I am pointing out that he sees HARPER as the problem, and NOT THE GUYS WHO DID THE KILLING.

            You need to look up what hypocrisy means…..because you clearly don’t really know. guess it’s just a “big word” you throw out once in a while to sound important.

            Emily…..everyone knows your a flake. But keep posting in any event; even though proof is no longer required.

        • Sorry Jimmy…Muslims believe in the Old Testament, the New Testament and Jesus.

          Your ignorance is the problem.

          Along with your broom-closet leader of course.

          • “broom closet leader.” hahahahaha

          • Emily,

            The problem is not that Muslim’s believe in the Old or New Testament…..the problem is that they ACT according to the Quran.

            And that’s the problem.

    • Carpet bomber wrote:
      “This government needs to do a course in sensitivity training instead of its strident approach toward people who come and visit Canada from foreign countries.”

      Actually, the sensitivity training isn’t required. What we need to do is stop letting people from foreign countries from bringing their backward ideology to Canada in the first place. If people from foreign countries want to visit…fine. But if they want to live here, they need to leave their fanatacism back in their own country.

      • We have christian fanatics in Canada, Jimmy. Where should we send them?

        • Emily….

          When the Christian fanatics graduate from being pests handing out flyers during my dinner……and start shooting people or whacking off peoples’ heads…..send them to jail, or put a bullet in them.

          For now, however, it is only the adherents of Muhammad who are doing this.

          What part don’t you “get?”

          • Christians murder doctors Jimmy….and they promote the killing of gays in other countries

            Go back to school

          • Emily…..

            Your idiocy and ignorance knows no bounds. I’m glad you wrote this; though I don’t think folks here need any further evidence of your complete lack of lucidity.

  2. I am not interested in the political wrangling that all too quickly has become the focus. I, and I imagine most Canadians are incensed by this dispicable and most cowardly of acts. With the most recent reports verifying that this coward shot an honour guard at a War Memorial in the back. Apparently there was an attempt on the second soldier as well but thankfully he missed. I agree with the calls for Cpl. Cirillo to be honoured in someway at the War Memorial in Ottawa. I can’t imagine a more solemn duty that a Canadian Soldier could be engaged in. This is not only a slap in the face to all Canadians, this is an affront to each and every serviceman and servicewoman that the War Memorial pays tribute to, from Vimy Ridge to Juno Beach to all those brave man and woman who have served and continue to risk their lives while wearing our Maple Leaf on their sleeve and in their hearts. Although it’s a controversial view to have, and maybe not shared by the masses, almost as strong as I feel about honouring Cpl. Cirillo, the disgust that I feel towards the peace of garbage who is responsible for this once unthinkable act, has me thinking we as Canadians should petition for a posthumous recision of his citizenship, and refusal to allow his remains to be buried on Canadian soil. That same soil that are brave men and woman over the generations have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect, and ensure our freedom. Feed this piece of garbage to the fishes, regardless of the perceived level of disrespect, nothing could ever approach that which he perpetrated on Cpl. Cirillo, all Canadian Soldiers past and present, and finally a Country that he should not be allowed to remain in. Rest in Peace Cpl. Cirillo, my heart goes out to your entire family, and to each and every fallen soldier.

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