Stewart Bell, National Post · Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010
The RCMP’s senior counterterrorism officer singled out radical preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki yesterday as a common thread among young Canadian extremists.
Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said Awlaki, a Yemeni-American terrorist leader, had been popping up during investigations of “the individuals that are of concern to us.”
“He’s a major, major factor in radicalization,” Ass. Comm. Michaud, head of the RCMP’s National Security Criminal Investigations section, told the National Post in an interview.
“This individual, basically he’s born in the U.S., so he knows the Western culture and whatnot, he knows the words to use and how to get to the young people.”
The RCMP have been investigating radicalized Canadians who have travelled to such countries as Somalia and Pakistan for terrorist training.
His comments came a day after the Canadian government ordered financial institutions to look for property linked to Awlaki and, if they find any, to seize it and report it to the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
The move followed similar measures enacted last week by the United States and on Tuesday by the United Nations Security Council, which placed Awlaki on its list of individuals associated with al-Qaeda.
The UN said in its summary of reasons for listing Awlaki that he is a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was involved in recruiting and training camps.
Since late 2009, he has “taken on an increasingly operational role in the group.”
In particular, he prepared Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for his attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day using explosives hidden in his underwear, it said.
Born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, Awlaki preached in the 1990s at mosques in U.S. cities such as San Diego, where he was repeatedly arrested and fined for picking up prostitutes. He moved to Yemen in 2004.
Making use of his fluency in English, he began to exploit the Internet to introduce al-Qaeda’s worldview to the online generation. His recordings, in which he exhorts Muslims to commit terrorist violence, have made him popular among angry youths — and a target. In April, the Obama administration authorized U.S. agencies to capture or kill him.
“We seek to apply the rule of Koran, and make the word of Allah supreme over all other and God willing, we will strive to achieve these goals with all what we possess, and we will fight to the last man against whoever stands in our way,” he said in a recent online message. “We are fighting for God.”
From the Toronto 18 to the Somali-Canadians in Al-Shabab, many of those involved in terrorist groups share a fascination with Awlaki, who has been in hiding somewhere in Yemen since 2007.
“I disagree with him all the way,” said Saed Rageah, Imam of the Abu Huraira mosque in Toronto. He said he had listened to tapes of Awlaki and found he was taking Koranic verses out of context to justify his views. “I disagree killing innocent people, Islam disagrees with that,” Imam Rageah said.
On Wednesday, the police crackdown on Awlaki’s followers continued. Zachary Adam Chesser, 20, was arrested after he allegedly attempted to travel to Somalia to join Al-Shabab, the terrorist group behind the bombings in Uganda that killed 76 during the World Cup soccer final.
Mr. Chesser told the FBI that since converting to Islam in 2008 he had become “very extremist” in his beliefs, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia. He said he was a fan of Awlaki’s videos and had exchanged emails with the fugitive preacher.
When he was stopped at New York’s JFK airport on June 10, because he was on the U.S. no-fly list, he was travelling with his infant son. He later told the FBI he was using the child to cover up his true intention, which was to travel to Somalia.
Also known as Abu Talha Al-Amrikee, he had earlier come to public attention for supporting the killing of the creators of the animated television show South Park, which had depicted the Muslim prophet Muhamed wearing a bear costume.