WH: Ottawa shootings 'terrorist attacks'

Wednesday's shootings in Canada's capital city of Ottawa were "despicable terrorist attacks," the White House said Thursday.

"When it comes to dealing with terrorist activity, it is clear that Canada and the United States have to be entirely in sync," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. "We have been in the past and we will continue to be in the future."

A Canadian soldier was shot and killed Wednesday morning as he was guarding the war memorial in Ottawa. Minutes later, gunfire was exchanged inside the country's Parliament building.

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The suspected shooter, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed in that incident. According to multiple media reports, he was a recent convert to Islam whose passport was confiscated by Canadian authorities because he wanted to fight overseas.

Earnest said President Obama had long been concerned by "the risk that the U.S. faces from so-called lone wolves."

He noted that accounting for such individuals was "a critical component of our nation’s counterterrorism strategy," and said the administration had launched a number of programs intended to combat lone-wolf domestic terrorists. 

That includes a program partnering with local leaders, mental health professionals and educators to identify individuals who might be vulnerable to violent extremism. It also includes pilot programs in three cities where federal officials work with local law enforcement to combat extremism among youths.

"The president even talked about this risk prior to the Boston bombing that occurred at the finish line of the marathon a couple of years ago," Earnest said. "So this is something that has long attracted the attention of the United States and the Obama administration, and the administration has laid out a very multifaceted strategy for combating it."

Earnest would not say whether Zehaf-Bibeau was known to U.S. authorities or comment on reports he had tried to travel to the Middle East. But Earnest described the attack in Canada as different from the type of threat U.S. authorities had warned about in recent months.

"The foreign fighter threat that we have identified are individuals who have already traveled to the region and could return home to carry out acts of violence," Earnest said.

The White House did say U.S. counterterrorism officials would be working with their Canadian counterparts.

"You should expect that U.S. officials who are responsible for our counterterrorism efforts have also been in touch with their counterparts in Canada to offer assistance and to coordinate both in the investigation and in any needed response," Earnest said.