Why did the RCMP redact 18 seconds of the Zehaf-Bibeau video?

Now we know what he said, the question remains. Michael Friscolanti on the Ottawa gunman’s last words
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

The public saw the bulk of his videotaped rant back in March: the Parliament Hill gunman, minutes before his attack, vowing “retaliation” for Canada’s military deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq (and payback for his home country’s supposed “indecency”). “Just aiming to hit some soldiers just to show that you’re not even safe in your own land,” said Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, speaking rapidly into his cellphone camera. “It’s a disgrace you guys have forgotten God.”

At first, the RCMP did not disclose the entire manifesto. Eighteen seconds (13 at the beginning; five at the end) were redacted for what Commissioner Bob Paulson described as “sound operational reasons.” Translation: there was something said in those particular portions that, if released too soon, could jeopardize the ongoing investigation. “Unfortunately,” Paulson said at the time, “for the very same reasons we have edited the video, I cannot explain to you at this point why we have done so.”

Although police working major cases typically keep certain details under wraps, the redaction triggered inevitable speculation. Did Zehaf-Bibeau say something that linked him to another target on the RCMP’s radar? Did he unknowingly provide clues about potential accomplices? Did the Mounties hope the mere mention of the missing clip would spark chatter among possible suspects—a standard baiting technique used in high-profile investigations? Or did Zehaf-Bibeau actually name names?

“It’s complicated,” Paulson told reporters, “so I’m asking you to be patient because it’s going to take time.”

Earlier this week, the truth appeared to be trickling out. Citing an unnamed source, a Quebec news agency said Zehaf-Bibeau did indeed identify specific people who either helped plan his assault or would have supported it. A subsequent report, citing two anonymous sources, said the video “includes an exhortation to others to carry out similar attacks, as well as a number of Middle Eastern names.”

None of that is accurate, it turns out.

Minus all the fanfare of the video’s initial release (Paulson disclosed the first portion at a House of Commons committee meeting, just steps from the hallway where Zehaf-Bibeau was killed in a hail of bullets on the morning of Oct. 22), the Mounties released the missing 18 seconds Friday afternoon, via press release and a web link. Every word of the previously secret segments is in Arabic, with the would-be killer praying for Allah’s help and blessings and cursing his enemies.

The first 13 seconds: “In the name of Allah the most gracious and the most merciful. All praises to Allah, the Lord of the universe. We seek his help and ask for his forgiveness. Lord, open for me my chest, ease my task for me and remove the impediment from my speech. In the name of Allah the most gracious and the most merciful.”

The final five seconds: “Lord, accept from me and peace be upon you and upon the Mujahedin. May Allah curse you.” (In the subtitles provided by the RCMP, his final sentence ends, inexplicably, with two exclamation marks.)

Why couldn’t the public see those two clips until now? At first glance, they appear nothing more than the boilerplate ramblings of so many other militant Islamists.

“The RCMP believed that the content initially removed for public release could assist in determining the origin and nature of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s radicalization to violence,” says the RCMP’s press release. More specifically, the Mounties needed time to analyze the gunman’s specific Arabic dialect in the hopes it could provide “investigative leads.”

Did it? “We will not speak further to any investigational results arising out of this analysis,” the release concludes.

What is certain is that the case is still very open, and the RCMP has not backed down from the strong remarks Paulson delivered at the March unveiling: that he’s “persuaded Zehaf-Bibeau didn’t come to this act alone,” and that officers “are actively investigating individuals who may have contributed to his crimes.”

To borrow a phrase from Zehaf-Bibeau, the Mounties will “not cease” until every potential lead is examined.