Exposing Political, Economic, and Security Threats to the United States and the West
ISIS fighters. Photo: ISIS video

“The principal terrorism- threat to Canada is violent Sunni Islamist ideology” – Official document

On December 11, 2018, Public Safety Canada published the “2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada.”

Here are excerpts from the report:

Executive Summary

Canada’s terrorist threat environment remains stable. The principal terrorist threat to Canada continues to stem from individuals or groups who are inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology and terrorist groups, such as Daesh or al-Qaida (AQ). Canada also remains concerned about threats posed by those who harbour right-wing extremist views. The April 2018 van attack in Toronto is a reminder that violent acts driven by extremists’ views are not exclusively-linked to any particular religious, political or cultural ideology. Furthermore, Shia and Sikh (Khalistani) extremism also remain of concern because while their attacks in Canada have been extremely limited, some Canadians continue to support these extremist groups, including through financing. At the time of publication, Canada’s National Terrorism Threat Level remains at medium, as set in early October 2014 – meaning a violent act of terrorism could occur.

Though Daesh territorial holdings in the Syria-Iraq conflict zone continue to decline, Canada has not seen a related influx in the number of Canadian Extremist Travellers (CETs) who have returned to Canada, nor does it expect to. Owing to several factors (such as a lack of valid travel documents, denying boarding to aircraft destined for Canada, potential fear of arrest upon return, their continued commitment to Daesh or other groups, having been captured while in Syria and Iraq, or because they have died), CET numbers abroad remain stable at approximately 190 individuals with a nexus to Canada, and close to 60 who have returned.

In an effort to project strength and influence to counter its decreasing support and size, Daesh is resorting more frequently to false claims of responsibility for acts of violence, including in Canada. In June 2018, after Faisal Hussain fired on the busy Toronto neighbourhood of Danforth, Daesh quickly claimed responsibility, despite the total absence of any link between the attack and that group or any other terrorist group.

While globally, terrorist attacks have seen a decline, particularly in the West, ungoverned and permissive environments continue to allow terrorist groups to regroup or develop capabilities. Al-Qaida, Daesh and their affiliates continue to conduct attacks in the Middle East, South-East Asia, South Asia (Afghanistan) and North and West Africa. The Taliban continues to challenge the authority of the Afghanistan government through terrorist acts, while other groups, such as Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen (JNIM), Ansurul Islam, and al-Shabaab remain active in Africa.

In Canada, and more generally, in the West individuals who claim allegiance or who are inspired by terrorist groups use low-sophistication, low-resource tactics (such as vehicle ramming) to commit violent acts which achieve mass casualties and garner significant publicity and reaction. These individuals or groups are often inspired online, which is also a venue for recruitment, facilitation, guidance on weapons and/or financing.

The Government of Canada’s approach to countering the threat posed by terrorism also continues to evolve, in line with the nature of the threat. Regardless, its primary objectives remain the same – to disrupt potential acts from occurring and bringing all perpetrators to justice. Since 2001, 55 individuals have been charged with terrorism offences under the Criminal Code. In each case, measures and tools available to the government are employed in a flexible and versatile whole-of-government approach, which are tailored for each specific individual and situation.

Looking forward, Bill C-59, An Act Respecting National Security MattersNote 1, would further enhance this approach by improving information sharing among security and intelligence partners; amending the Secure Air Travel Act to make it more effective at preventing travel by those intent on engaging in terrorism (while facilitating legitimate travel) and by amending parts of the Criminal Code to, among other things, make terrorism provisions more clear.

Finally, the National Strategy on Countering Radicalization to Violence will outline priority areas aimed at preventing radicalization to violence in Canada, which are shaped by the evolving threat environment.

The Current Terrorist Threat to Canada

Sunni Islamist Extremism

The principal terrorist threat to Canada and Canadian interests continues to be that posed by individuals or groups who are inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology and terrorist groups, such as Daesh or al-Qaida (AQ).

At the same time, Canada also continues to face threats from individuals inspired to commit violence based on other forms of extremism, including from right-wing, Shia Islamist, and Sikh (Khalistani) extremists. The risk of violence emanating from individuals inspired by these forms of extremism currently poses a lower threat to Canada than that of Daesh or AQ inspired individuals or groups.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to protest, as well as the rights of freedom of conscience and religion, expression, association and peaceful assembly. It is the evolution from hate to serious acts of politically-motivated violence with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, in regard to its sense of security, that could be considered a terrorism offence.

In 2018, no terrorist attacks have been committed by terrorist groups or their followers in Canada. In fact, the rate of terrorist attacks in the West has decreased overall; statistics show a decline in the rate of terror attacks since early 2016, after having peaked in late 2014 / early 2015. Canada’s National Terrorism Threat Level (NTTL) remains at Medium. However, individuals in Canada continue to express both the intent and capability to carry out violent acts of terrorism in Canada and against Canadian interests.

In the past year, attacks that were carried out by individuals who are not formally connected to any terrorist group continued to occur. These individuals, often inspired by other attacks, adopt terrorist methods when carrying out a violent act. Further, over the course of the last year, terrorist groups and their followers falsely claimed responsibility for attacks, when in fact they had no involvement or foreknowledge of these acts. Canada is not immune to this phenomenon. For example, in July 2018, 29-year-old Faisal Hussain opened fire in the busy Danforth neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario. While law enforcement officials confirmed that there was no terrorism nexus, Daesh falsely claimed responsibility for the attack soon after it occurred.

Fewer Canadians are seeking to travel abroad to support groups like Daesh or AQ. A small number of individuals maintain intentions to travel and some have made attempts. When travel plans are prevented, some individuals may turn their extreme intentions to the domestic environment. Canada continues to be used for recruitment, fundraising and other activities that facilitate violent extremist activity abroad. Social media also remains a key tool for individuals in Canada and abroad who wish to communicate with other terrorists and violent extremist actors.

In July 2014, Daesh leaders incited followers to participate in conflicts abroad and called on supporters to conduct attacks against the West. At the time, a number of Canadians amplified the group’s call for violence within Canada, which also resulted in some travelling abroad to join Daesh. Separately, two terrorist attacks occurred in Canada in October 2014. These incidents were praised by Daesh supporters online at the time.

In August 2018, Daesh’s leader released a speech urging Daesh supporters in the West to remain defiant and follow examples of their “brothers” in Canada and elsewhere, and carry out attacks. Unlike in 2014, Canada has not yet seen a response to these calls for attacks, however, Canada remains vigilant.

Right-Wing Extremism

Although the majority of recent global terrorist attacks can be attributed to individuals inspired by terrorist groups such as Daesh and AQ, other recent events around the world are bringing attention to the threat of violence from individuals who harbour right-wing extremist views.

Right-wing extremism (RWE) is traditionally driven by hatred and fear, and includes a range of individuals, groups, often in online communities, that back a wide range of issues and grievances, including, but not limited to: anti-government and anti-law enforcement sentiment, advocacy of white nationalism and racial separation, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, anti-immigration, male supremacy (misogyny) and homophobia. The threat of violence from any individuals, including those holding extreme right-wing views, may manifest in terrorist activity or other forms of criminal violence. However, while racism, bigotry, and misogyny may undermine the fabric of Canadian society, ultimately they do not usually result in criminal behavior or threats to national security.

In Canada, individuals who hold extreme right-wing views are active online, leveraging chat forums and online networks to exchange ideas, as opposed to openly promoting violence. These individuals leverage online chats and forums in attempt to create an online culture of fear, hatred and mistrust by exploiting real or imagined concerns.

Traditionally, in Canada, violence linked to the far-right has been sporadic and opportunistic. However, attacks perpetrated by individuals who hold extreme right-wing views and other lesser-known forms of ideological extremism can occur. A recent example is the April 2018 van attack in Toronto, Ontario, which resulted in the deaths of 10 people and alerted Canada to the dangers of the online Incel movement. It may be difficult to assess, in the short term, to what extent a specific act was ideologically-driven, or comment while investigations are ongoing or cases are before the court.

Right-wing extremism is not unique to Canada. In fact, some European RWE groups have established chapters in Canada. Likewise, some Canadian RWE groups have far-right connections in Europe.

Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism

Some individuals in Canada continue to support Sikh (Khalistani) extremist ideologies and movements. This political movement aims to create an independent homeland for Sikhs called Khalistan, in India. Violent activities in support of an independent Sikh homeland have fallen since their height during the 1982-1993 period when individuals and groups conducted numerous terrorist attacks. The 1985 Air India bombing by Khalistani terrorists, which killed 331 people, remains the deadliest terrorist plot ever launched in Canada. While attacks around the world in support of this movement have declined, support for the extreme ideologies of such groups remains. For example, in Canada, two key Sikh organizations, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation, have been identified as being associated with terrorism and remain listed terrorist entities under the Criminal Code.

Shia Extremism

Shia violent extremist groups remain active in various parts of the world. With many supporters worldwide, Iran-backed Hizballah, based in Lebanon, continues to be the primary Shia terrorist group. Since the early 1980s, Hizballah has been responsible for, or linked to, multiple large-scale terrorist attacks worldwide; however, none of these attacks have occurred in Canada.

Hizballah operates within a global and highly diversified logistical and support structure, receiving considerable material and financial support from individuals and businesses in many countries, including Canada. Often, the individuals that support the group are not directly tied to Hizballah structures, but may sympathize with the organization for political reasons. Additionally, Hizballah operates an international network of charities that may divert funds to the organization or benefit from Hizballah funding. As a result, Hizballah has been a listed terrorist entity under the Criminal Code since 2002. Since that time, banks and financial institutions in Canada have had to freeze the entity’s assets. Also, the Criminal Code mandates severe penalties for people or organizations that deal with the property of a listed entity.

Hizballah – Established in 1982, in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, this Iran-backed group has developed into a socio-political-military organization. Hizballah continues to carry out and facilitate terrorist activities and provide support to several terrorist organizations, including with the covert provision of weapons, training, funding and guidance. In recent years it has participated in parliamentary elections and has formed part of the government. While some countries differentiate between the organization’s militant and political wings under their listing regimes, Canada has listed Hizballah in its entirety under the Criminal Code.

however, none of these attacks have occurred in Canada.

Hizballah operates within a global and highly diversified logistical and support structure, receiving considerable material and financial support from individuals and businesses in many countries, including Canada. Often, the individuals that support the group are not directly tied to Hizballah structures, but may sympathize with the organization for political reasons. Additionally, Hizballah operates an international network of charities that may divert funds to the organization or benefit from Hizballah funding. As a result, Hizballah has been a listed terrorist entity under the Criminal Code since 2002. Since that time, banks and financial institutions in Canada have had to freeze the entity’s assets. Also, the Criminal Code mandates severe penalties for people or organizations that deal with the property of a listed entity.

Canadian Extremist Travellers

The Government continues to monitor and respond to the threat of Canadian Extremist Travellers (CETs) who are individuals suspected of travelling abroad to engage in extremist activity. This year, as with the last, approximately 190 extremist travellers with a nexus to Canada are currently abroad, including Syria and Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North and East Africa. Approximately half of the CETs who are abroad are located in Turkey, Syria or Iraq. These individuals have travelled to support and facilitate extremist activities, and, in some cases, to directly participate in terrorist acts. Approximately sixty (60) additional individuals with a nexus to Canada who are suspected of engaging in extremist activities abroad have returned to Canada. Of these 60, only a relatively small number of those who have returned are from Turkey, Iraq or Syria. These numbers have remained stable over the last three years.

Over the past year, Daesh has lost significant territory in Syria and Iraq. This has raised international concerns about the potential threat posed by extremist travellers returning to their home countries as they escape the conflict zone. Canada has not experienced, and does not expect to experience, a significant influx of returning Daesh-affiliated extremist travellers. Many of these individuals have been killed or captured in Syria and Iraq, and many will remain abroad due to their ongoing commitment to the cause. Of the CETs remaining there, only a few have openly expressed a desire to return to Canada.

With respect to those considering returning, measures are in place to ensure that the Government can monitor and respond to a return and to the threat posed by that individual CET. The government’s response is tailored in each specific case based on the threat the individual may pose to Canada and can include a variety of mitigation measures, which will be discussed in part 3 of this report. Some of these same measures may also serve to deter individuals from trying to leave Canada to travel abroad.

Should Canadian extremist travellers return home, their experiences abroad and network of like-minded individuals could pose a security threat to Canada. As such, it is conceivable that all returnees possess the capability to conduct unsophisticated attacks, such as with knives or vehicles. They may also possess the ability to influence and encourage others to participate in such activities. There is also a threat posed by individuals who, for a variety of reasons, may have been stopped by the Canadian authorities from travelling abroad. Due to the travel restrictions placed on them, there is a possibility that these individuals may re-direct their efforts towards planning attacks here in Canada. Some may also choose to facilitate international terrorism activities abroad. For example, in 2009, Momin Khawaja was the first Canadian charged and subsequently sentenced under provisions of the Criminal Code which were introduced by the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act for his role in helping individuals aligned with AQ in the failed plot to use fertilizer bombs to attack targets in and around London, England.

About Rachel Ehrenfeld

Rachel Ehrenfeld
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is Founder and President of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, and the Economic Warfare Institute. Dr. Ehrenfeld has authored academic and policy papers and more than one thousand articles. Her books include FUNDING EVIL: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop Ii (2011) • EVIL MONEY (HarperCollins, 1992,1994). Her latest book project is on The Economic Warfare against the U.S. from Within and Without. • NARCOTERRORISM (Basic Books, 1990, 1992).

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