CANADA GAVE ISLAM UNFETTERED ACCESS TO OUR SHORES…THAT’S HOW…
Analysis: How terror came home to roost
Almost nine years after al-Qaeda hijackers infiltrated the U.S. to orchestrate the Sept. 11 attacks, the spectre of terrorism continues to haunt North Americans.
But as highlighted by this week’s unmasking of an alleged bomb plot in Ottawa, the threat increasingly comes not from strangers with rough English and dubious passports. Instead, it resides much closer to home: in urban townhouses, darkened basements — anywhere with an Internet connection.
Homegrown terrorism is the latest incarnation of the al-Qaeda threat.
“It (homegrown terrorism) is a relatively new phenomenon that we must be very vigilant about,” Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters this week.
The terrorist threat in Canada has repeatedly morphed since February 1998, when a then 40-year-old Saudi exile named Osama bin Laden published a fatwa in a London-based Arabic newspaper. The fatwa claimed that since the United States had declared war on Islam, it was “the individual duty for every Muslim” to kill Americans, wherever they lived.
At first, bin Laden’s terrorist network, al-Qaeda, menaced Americans and their allies overseas. U.S. Embassy bombings in August 1998 killed more than 200 people in Kenya and Tanzania; then, in October 2000, al-Qaeda operatives used a small boat laden with explosives to blast a hole in the side of a U.S. navy destroyer, USS Cole, that killed 17 crew members.
Sept. 11, 2001, brought the al-Qaeda menace home. Audacious attacks on New York and Washington left nearly 3,000 dead: it was the single largest loss of life from an enemy attack on U.S. soil.
Twenty-four Canadians died in the attacks, which generated a massive response from national security agencies on both sides of the border. The initial fear was that al-
Qaeda operatives already on the ground would unleash a second wave.
In Canada, hastily assembled investigative teams made grievous errors as they sought to defuse what they believed to be the next attack. Two federal inquiries would later castigate the RCMP and CSIS for their handling of investigations into Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. (Both Arar and Almalki lived in Ottawa.) The men were asked about alleged plots in Canada under torture in Syria.
When concern about a ticking time bomb subsided, another threat emerged in Canada: the al-Qaeda sleeper agent.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Ottawa’s Mohamed Harkat, Montreal’s Adil Charkaoui and Toronto’s Hassan Almrei were arrested on federal security certificates as “sleeper agents:” al-Qaeda agents who had embedded themselves in Canadian society while awaiting an assignment.
The government, however, has had a hard time proving the men dangerous. The cases against Almrei and Charkaoui have been dismissed. A decision in the Harkat case is expected this fall.
Meanwhile, the terrorist threat in Canada has continued to evolve.
Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said recently that “the real change over the course of the last couple of years has been the growth of domestic radicalization.”
Earlier this year, Fadden told a Commons committee that the agency has more than 200 individuals in Canada under investigation for terrorism-related activities.
Of particular concern, he said, were second- and third-generation Canadians who have become disenchanted with their own country and blame it for strife overseas. “That’s the most worrisome part, I think, of our work today,” Fadden said. “It’s the people who have been in this country for quite a while who are rejecting the very essence of what we are in Canada.”
Homegrown terrorism is the cancerous result of al-Qaeda’s successful marketing of Islamic extremism.
That Internet-based campaign, which paints military action in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the West’s war with Islam, has been effectively aimed at impressionable young web surfers.
Ottawa’s Momin Khawaja was in his early 20s when he connected with the global jihad through the computer in the basement of his parents’ home.
Khawaja’s trial also heard that he used his government e-mail account — he was a contract employee at the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2004 — to plot the murder of hundreds of Britons in the name of radical Islam.
Then, in 2006, police arrested the so-called Toronto 18, a group of mostly young, homegrown terrorists who had turned their sights on Canadian targets, including the Parliament Buildings. Eleven members of the group have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of terrorism-related charges.
This week’s terrorism arrests present security officials with a troubling new profile of homegrown extremists. The accused include a doctor and an X-ray technician. All three men have young families.
The case of Dr. Khurram Sher is the most perplexing. The 28-year-old pathologist, a McGill University graduate, is a father of three and a ball-hockey enthusiast, who performed a comic turn on Canadian Idol in 2008.
How is that he allegedly enlisted in a conspiracy to deliver arms to Afghan insurgents and to plant bombs in Ottawa?
National security agents have a few threads to follow: Sher travelled to Pakistan in 2006 to assist in earthquake relief; in 2007, he added his name to a letter that demanded the Canadian government offer better medical care to three men held in jail on security certificates. (The men were then on hunger strikes.) Could these events have been among those to shape his worldview?
Raymond Boisvert, CSIS’ assistant director, said investigators want to understand each suspect’s path to radicalization: “The core issue of whether this is a self-radicalized individual who has spent time on the Internet in the basement of their home, or somebody who has been subjected to or offered opportunities for training — if they’ve had some support or tasking from abroad — is always a critical question in these types of investigations.”
Carleton University professor emeritus Martin Rudner, a terrorism and security expert, said the newest threat involves homegrown terrorists galvanized by the Internet, then trained by “a mother al-Qaeda” (al-Qaeda al Oum) in lawless parts of Pakistan or Afghanistan.
“Like a mother, it gives guidance, inspiration and instruction to homegrown terrorists, who are the children,” he said.
Former CSIS director Reid Morden said he’s concerned by fundamentalist views being espoused in newly-established Canadian mosques.
“Given the very substantial number of mosques, representing a growing and numerous community, one shouldn’t be surprised that every once in a while someone really steps over the line between words and actually doing something about it,” he said in an interview.
Security services are left with the difficult task, he said, of balancing the safety of the state with individual freedoms in combatting the homegrown threat: “Where do you draw the line? That’s the conundrum that the government and its security agents have to face.”
with files from Douglas Quan, Postmedia News