HAMILTON, Ontario (AFP) - Thousands of mourners lined the streets of the Canadian city of Hamilton on Tuesday for the funeral of a soldier killed last week in an attack in the centre of the nation’s capital.
To the tune of wailing bagpipes and a solitary drum beat, hundreds of soldiers, veterans and police officers walked alongside the flag-draped casket of Corporal Nathan Cirillo to a cathedral in Hamilton, his hometown in Ontario.
Cirillo was fatally shot last week while standing watch at the War Memorial in Ottawa. His attacker, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, then stormed into parliament and exchanged fire with police before being shot dead.
The attack was one of two targeting Canadian military personnel last week. Another soldier was run over and killed last week in a Montreal suburb.
Both attacks came as Canada deployed fighter jets to join US-led air strikes on the Islamic State group in Iraq. Police say both assailants were converts to Islam with alleged extremist views.
“Two of our own have made the ultimate sacrifice, and we celebrate their lives and mourn their deaths,” said Governor General David Johnston.
In his eulogy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told mourners that the war memorial is a reminder that “freedom is never free. It has been earned by the soldier and then donated to all of us.”
“Most of us can never truly understand the significance to a soldier of the simple act of standing reverently on guard at that place,” Harper said.
“Corporal Cirillo, who felt the calling of a soldier when he was just a 13-year-old cadet, he understood. He knew what he was protecting and what he was preserving. He died protecting and preserving it.”
Harper was to meet later in the day with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who travelled to Canada to show Washington’s solidarity with Ottawa.
Kerry placed a wreath at the war memorial in Cirillo’s honour.
Canada, a country proud of its reputation for openness and tolerance, has remained defiant in the wake of the attacks.
It has been threatened in militant broadcasts over its role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State militants.
Some Canadians have travelled to the Middle East to join the group, and others are thought to have developed radical ideas at home, living among the country’s Muslim minority.
Police say the two attackers were tempted by the prospect of waging war in Syria, another Islamic State stronghold.
Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, was described as a petty criminal who was estranged from his family and struggled with a drug addiction.
“He was very pious... but he seemed very extreme,” Abdel Kareem Abubakir, a volunteer at an Ottawa shelter that had taken in Zehaf-Bibeau, told the Globe and Mail newspaper.
The assailant in the Quebec attack, 25-year-old Martin Couture-Rouleau, had been on a watch list of suspected Canadian extremists before he used his car as a weapon to run over two soldiers in Quebec on Oct 20, killing one of them before being shot dead by police.
In July, he was barred at the last minute from leaving for Turkey, a popular entry point for would-be extremists looking to fight in Iraq and Syria.
Police seized Couture-Rouleau’s passport as he sought to board an airplane in Montreal, but did not have enough evidence to arrest him.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that during his visit, Kerry would also emphasise the two nations’ “close cooperation in our shared approach to countering violent extremism.”