October 24, 2014 11:49 pm
Updated: October 25, 2014 11:30 am

Former acquaintance questions what led Michael Zehaf-Bibeau to attack

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Watch above: More details emerge about the Ottawa shooter and his time in B.C. John Daly reports.

David Bathurst learned from a reporter that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, someone he attended mosque with about three years ago, was the man behind the deadly attack in the nation’s capital.

Bathurst didn’t know the 32-year-old that well, but he did give him a chance to work with his family’s sprinkler business in the spring of 2011.

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“Just a brief stint” for about a couple of days, Bathurst told Global News.

They saw each other regularly back then, for the three to four months Zehaf-Bibeau attended the Masjid al-Salaam and Education Center — a mosque in Burnaby, B.C. — but the two men drifted apart over time.

The last time Bathurst saw Zehaf-Bibeau was in August, when they crossed paths at Masjid al-Salaam.

Like many who know someone accused of such a brazen attack, Bathurst was completely shocked when he heard his former acquaintance was blamed for the murder of 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was shot while on guard at the National War Memorial.

READ MORE: Slain soldier Cpl. Cirillo makes final journey home along Highway of Heroes

Bibeau-Zehaf was shot dead in the corridor of the House of Parliament’s Center Block, steps away from where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with members of the Conservative caucus Wednesday morning.

With the attack happening just two days after a separate targeted attack on Canadian soldiers, questions quickly arose about Zehaf-Bibeau, a Libyan-Canadian born in Quebec, and whether he had ties to or was inspired by extremist groups.

Bathurst wasn’t so sure about that.

He said he doesn’t know what would have driven Zehaf-Bibeau to carry out Wednesday’s attack, but he described the man as mentally “unbalanced” and recounted how Zehaf-Bibeau had his own way of studying Islam.

WATCH: In this extended interview, David Bathurst speaks with John Daly about Ottawa gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

“[Zehaf-Bibeau’s] viewpoint was that the Qur’an could be protected by God, however the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad were preserved by human beings. So, the Devil could have misled them and therefore he rejected all traditions of the Prophet Muhammad,” he said.

“He was probably difficult for most of the attendees of the mosque.”

By some accounts, he was. Masjid al-Salaam spokesperson Aasim Rashid on Friday told reporters Zehaf-Bibeau didn’t like the mosque’s acceptance of other faiths and was eventually asked to leave after he tried to sleep there following his 2012 release from jail.

READ MORE: Prominent imam says new Islamic converts need to be vetted

Bathurst confirmed Zehaf-Bibeau had one link to someone suspected of having travelled abroad for terror-related purposes: 25-year-old Hasibullah Yusufzai, of Burnaby, who was the first person to be charged under a recent law that prohibits leaving the country to take part in extremist activities.

Bathurst knew Yusufzai as well, but he thinks they were two very different people.

“They did know each other and they did talk to each other. But, I think they’re not really two peas from the same pod. With Michael, obviously he had drug addiction problems and mental health issues. Whereas with Hassib, he was self-radicalized through the Internet.”

READ MORE: Zehaf-Bibeau told B.C. court he wanted to go to jail to kick crack cocaine habit

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday Zehaf-Bibeau’s email was found in a hard drive belonging to someone charged in connection with terror-related activities, but didn’t specify who that individual was.

Bathurst said he’s spoke with the authorities about Zehaf-Bibeau, and previously about Yusufzai, but didn’t want to detail those conversations as they are matters of national security.

Zehaf-Bibeau told Bathurst, when they met in August, he wanted to travel to Libya to study.

Bathurst said Zehaf-Bibeau assured him he wasn’t intending to take part in any sort of militant activity.

When Zehaf-Bibeau carried out his attack on Parliament Hill, he was in the process of getting a passport. In the days leading up to the shooting, he was reportedly “agitated” about the delay in getting the travel document.

READ MORE: Could Canadian authorities have prevented the Quebec ‘terror’ attack?

Bathurst doesn’t think Zehaf-Bibeau “fits the typical profile of a fundamentalist or extremist.”

“He really never opened up to anybody that he had these extreme views. I’m still not convinced that’s why he did it.”

Bathurst said the Muslim community is among those horrified by what happened in Ottawa — a sentiment shared by officials at Masjid al-Salaam, who condemned Zehaf-Bibeau’s actions.

While the attacks this week have led to some backlash directed at the Muslim community, Bathurst hopes people will be able to share the positive and peaceful side of Islam, not the extremist views and actions of some individuals.

“The Qur’an calls for us to be patient in these situations,” he said. “I think that Muslims have to be patient and show the good side of Islam. … Be good neighbours, be good people in our communities.”

With files from John Daly

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