Monday, June 12, 2006

Northern Exposure: Deep Angst In Canada After Arrests in Terrorist Bombing Plot

RCMP Raids in Ontario May Have Prevented a 'September 11 North;' Canadian Muslim Leaders Denounce 'Radical Elements' in Community

By Skeeter Sanders

As Americans pondered in the past few days the possible implications of the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, their neighbors to the north have been shocked into dealing with what until now had been the unthinkable: A September 11-style day of multi-pronged terrorist attacks on Canadian soil.

The angst north of the border was triggered on June 2, when more than 400 RCMP and local police officers conducted a series of raids in southern Ontario and arrested 17 suspects.

Search warrants were issued on homes in Toronto and the nearby suburbs of Mississauga and Pickering. Most of the suspects were taken under heavy guard to be processed at a police station in Pickering, east of Toronto.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, carrying automatic weapons, ringed the station. Snipers were perched on nearby rooftops.

It was a show of force not seen on Canadian soil since the "October Crisis" of 1970, when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau sent in the army to quell a wave of domestic terrorist attacks in his native Quebec -- including the kidnapping and murder of a British diplomat and a prominent attorney -- by a radical Quebec separatist group.

Plans to Attack Parliament Hill, Seize TV Network and Kill Prime Minister

The 12 men and five youths were accused of knowingly participating in a terrorist group and either receiving or providing terrorist training. Police allege the suspects were inspired by al-Qaida and planned to make bombs to attack targets in Ontario.

As details of the terror plot were made public, Canadians were shocked to learn that the suspects allegedly planned to storm the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa; seize control of Canada's largest TV and radio network, the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, at its headquarters in Toronto; kidnap members of Parliament; and assassinate Prime Minister Stephen Harper by beheading him.

Their aim: To force Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, who have undertaken a stepped-up role in the war-torn country -- including the opening on Saturday of a new military base deep in Taliban territory -- since Harper and his Conservative Party government took office in February.

The CBC reported last Wednesday that one of the suspects now in custody had -- as did several of the 9/11 hijackers -- enrolled in a flight-training program as part of a plan to use aircraft in an attack on Canadian targets, including the Parliament Buildings' landmark Peace Tower, Ottawa's "Big Ben."

Plotters Forced to Change Targets by Lack of Geographic Knowledge of Ottawa

Meanwhile, The Canadian Press reported Thursday that the alleged plot to take members of Parliament hostage on Parliament Hill was abandoned at an early stage because the plotters -- all of whom were identified as Canadian citizens who hail from southern Ontario -- knew little about the geography of the nation's capital.

Five of the 17 suspects are minors under 18 -- the youngest believed to be only 15. Because of their age, their identities have been withheld from the public, in accordance with Canada's Youth Offenders Act.

The RCMP said the suspects sought three metric tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer -- more than twice that which Timothy McVeigh used in his massive truck bomb that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people in the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States prior to 9/11.

After abandoning their plan to attack Ottawa, the RCMP said, the suspects allegedly chose to attack an unspecified Canadian military base in southern Ontario; the downtown Toronto office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spy agency; the CBC's headquarters; the landmark CN Tower; and the Toronto Stock Exchange.

No Evidence Plotters Planned to Attack U.S. Targets

The Canadian Press quoted RCMP sources as saying that the accused conspirators were interrogated about any possible plans to attack targets in the U.S. or if they had links to sympathizers south of the border. To date, no hard evidence has emerged to indicate that they had.

In Washington, reaction to news of the alleged plot was mixed. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the arrests showed Canada is doing its part in the "war on terrorism.

"This shows that the Canadians are on the job. That's what it really shows."

But Representative Peter King (R-New York), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee -- who's locked in a bitter public feud with the White House over a major slash in anti-terrorism funding for New York City -- said the case shows it's easy for extremists to operate in Canada.

"I think it's a disproportionate number of al-Qaida [operatives] in Canada because of their very liberal immigration laws, because of how political asylum is granted so easily."

King's remarks drew a swift retort from Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. "Canada is just as diligent and successful in fighting terrorists as the Americans," he said.

Soon after the arrests, Wilson organized a Washington visit for top Canadian security officials, so they could brief their American counterparts on how they are staying on top of militant activity north of the border.

Case Triggers Deep Angst Among Canadian Muslims

In the wake of the arrests, Canadian Islamic groups warned over the weekend that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Muslim parents in Canada to safeguard the hearts and minds of their teen-aged children -- particularly their sons -- as extremists attempt to seduce the young into streams of radical political thought that can culminate in home-grown terrorism.

The frustration and sense of alienation so common to the teenage years -- regardless of cultural background -- are a pressing concern to the Muslim community as parents grow fearful that those emotions could be twisted to violent ends, Muslim leaders said.

"These children are going through the usual teenage things that everybody else goes through, but then add (the extremist predator) dimension to it," Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, told the Canadian Press. "[Religious extremists] have the radar to pick up the kids, to know who is vulnerable."

Muslim Imam Tells How One Suspect He Knew Became Radicalized

A Muslim religious leader in Toronto who knows some of those charged in the alleged plot says the young men underwent rapid transformations from normal Canadian teenagers to radicalized introverts.

Imam Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin told CBC Television that he got to know Saad Khalid, 19, and some of the other alleged conspirators at a local mosque. Amiruddin says Khalid used to come to his mosque to pray, sometimes in the company of Zakaria Amara and Fahim Ahmad, two of the alleged ringleaders.

"They would enter into the mosque to pray, and they would pray in a very aggressive manner, and they would come in military fatigues and military toques and stuff," Amiruddin said. "It looked to me that they were watching a lot of those Chechnyan jihad videos on-line and stuff."

Amiruddin is a teacher of Sufism, a deeply spiritual brand of Islam popular with Westerners that rejects the ideology of jihad. Amiruddin says the group was seduced by hard-line propaganda financed by the Saudi government and promoting the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi brand of Islam favored by al-Qaida and the Taliban.

A coalition of Islamic groups urged Canada's political leaders last Thursday to organize a summit in an effort to prevent the radicalization of young people.The threat of homegrown terrorism has been on the minds of Muslim groups for some time, long before the June 2 arrests.

The Canadian Islamic Congress issued guidelines last October aimed at Muslim parents in the wake of the July 7 London bombings, which were allegedly carried out by British-born followers of Islam. "Some misguided Muslims may try to recruit Canadian Muslims, especially our young people, and use them to commit crimes against our country or abroad," reads the communique.

Canadian Muslim Leaders Meet With Harper

Some "very frank exchanges" were shared by Prime Minister Harper and members of the Muslim community at a closed-door meeting in Ottawa on Saturday.

Participants said the prime minister took detailed notes, assuring the group he recognized the concerns of the Muslim community.

Tarek Fatah, spokesperson for the Canadian Muslim Congress, said Muslims ranging from the conservative right to the secular left were in attendance. He described it as a "healthy mix" of academics, activists, authors, and imams.

Farzana Hassan-Shahid, also of the CMC, said the meeting was a positive step, but that more empathy needs to be developed between the Muslim community and government officials. "Government policies, especially, should reflect that," she said.

Hassan-Shahid told The Canadian Press that those in attendance had different viewpoints about what may have led a group of young Muslims to consider violent attacks on their own country.

"It's about time Muslims owned up to the fact it's a Muslim problem," she said, adding that she thinks the community must forcefully denounce extremism. "We need to be more proactive, rather than issue statements of condemnation," she said.

Two U.S.-Based Muslim Groups Accused of Spreading "Fundamentalist Extremism" in Canada

Fatah said the issue of American-based Islamic organizations spreading fundamentalism and extremism in Toronto was also brought up, singling out two: The Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America.

"This is America pushing its fundamentalist Islamist thinking into Canada, not vice versa," he said.

The ISNA was one of a number of U.S.-based Muslim groups investigated by the FBI for possible terrorist connections. Its tax records were requested in December 2003 by the Senate Finance Committee. However, the committee's investigation concluded in November 2005 with no action taken.

Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law enforcement is already doing."

Legislation Sought on Anti-Terror Funding

For its part, the Harper government announced Saturday that it will introduce legislation in the fall to tighten controls on anti-terrorist funding.

"We'll be moving forward ... and making sure we have our Canadian legislation in line this year, with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force," Finance Minister James Flaherty told reporters after a meeting of G8 finance ministers in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Flaherty takes on the presidency this month of the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that combats money-laundering.

The Harper government has significantly boosted policing resources in their first budget, which was unveiled to Parliament in April. But Flaherty has admitted that Canada still has problems controlling money-laundering and counterfeiting.

Whatever They Do, Canadians Should Not Get Paranoid

On November 13, 2002, Canada was named as a potential target for attacks in an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden. Security officials had been warning since then that it was a matter of "when" and not "if" Canada would be attacked.

The question is: How should Canada deal with the threat of terrorism?

Canadians have long prided themselves on being an open, welcoming society. This American blogger, who loves Canada, would hate to see that come to a crashing end by Canadians becoming as security-conscious to the point of xenophobia, as their neighbors south of the border have become.

Already, several members of Parliament are calling for erecting barricades around Parliament Hill -- like those already in place around Capitol Hill in Washington -- and even proposing that the Parliament Buildings, one of Ottawa's most popular tourist attractions, be permanently closed to the public.

This blogger firmly says no. That would be succumbing to fear -- which is exactly what al-Qaida and other terrorists want. They want to drive our open, democratic, liberal societies, through fear and terror, into becoming paranoid, totalitarian societies.

It's already happening in the U.S., where the Bush administration has become dangerously authoritarian with its unconstitutional domestic spying program without court orders; its detention of so-called "enemy combatants" -- including U.S. citizens -- without charge or trial; its attempts to intimidate the press by digging into the telephone records of journalists; and its McCarthyite branding of opponents of its ill-conceived and misguided war in Iraq as "anti-American" for daring to exercise their constitutional right to dissent.

Whatever Canada does to deal with the terrorist threat, it must not succumb to fear and undermine the very things that make Canada the envy of the world.

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Volume I, Number 31
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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