Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was severely criticized for stating two years ago, a decade after 9/11, that the biggest security threat to Canada is Islamic terrorism. In an interview with CBC News, Harper said: “There are other threats out there, but that is the one that I can tell you occupies the security apparatus most regularly in terms of actual terrorist threats.” “The major threat is still Islamicism.”1
Public Safety Canada’s annual Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada in 2012 acknowledged that no attacks occurred within Canada in 2012, but the likelihood of terrorism within Canada has increased in the past year due to external radical influences, particularly al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as from Canadian individuals travelling abroad to participate in Jihadi terrorist activity.2
The Canadian government is accused by some of its detractors of fanning Islamophobia and falsely highlighting the threat of “Islamic terrorism” on political and ideological grounds. They maintain that Muslim terrorists do not represent true Islam, that they misinterpret Islam, and are a small minority within the general Muslim population in Canada.
How serious is the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism in Canada? Are we witnessing an ever-increasing trend as asserted by the government and the security apparatuses, or are these simply marginal individuals as government critics allege?
In order to examine this question, we shall introduce the facts that are not in dispute. Since July 2012 there have been several reported cases of Canadian citizens involved in terrorist activity, or suspected of participating in terrorism, or enlisting with semi-military groups, some of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda in Syria. Here is a detailed list of those individuals:
July 2012 – Hassan El Hajj Hassan, holding dual nationality, Canadian and Lebanese, Hizbullah activist, member of the terrorist cell that bombed an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria.
July 2012 – William Plotnikov, 23, Canadian of Russian descent. Converted to Islam and joined a terrorist group in Dagestan. Killed in gun battle with Russian security forces.
November 2012 – Hussam Samir al-Hams, Canadian of Palestinian descent, enlisted with Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades. Killed during IDF operation in Gaza.
December 2012 – Aaron Yoon, resident of London, Ontario. Converted to Islam and allegedly established ties to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. Visited Mali. Arrested in Mauritania on charges of ties to terrorist groups.
January 2013 – Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas (Christian converted to Islam), residents of London, Ontario, joined al-Qaeda, killed in suicide attack in Algeria, after participating in the murder of dozens of civilians. Muhajid ‘Ryan’ Enderi, additional member of this group from London, Ontario. Traveled with them abroad and has since disappeared.
February 2013 – Jamal Muhammad Abdulkader, student from Montreal, member of Kurdish family from north Syria, joined Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaeda. Killed in explosive truck attack in central Damascus.
April 2013 – Chihab Esseghaier, resident of Montreal of Tunisian descent, and Raed Jaser, resident of Markham, born in Kuwait of Palestinian descent, arrested on suspicion of planning to blow up VIA train on Niagara bridge on course to U.S. Ahmed Abbasi, Tunisian citizen, resided in Canada between 2010-2012, arrested in U.S. on suspicion of involvement in plans to blow up the train.
April 2013 – Mahad Ali Dhore, 25, Canadian of Somali descent, student at York University, joined al-Shabab group, affiliated with al-Qaeda, killed in terrorist attack in Somalia.
May 2013 – unidentified individual, presumably Canadian resident, killed in Syria while planning to carry out a terrorist attack on behalf of group identified with al-Qaeda.
June 2013 – Damian Clairmont, young Canadian resident of Calgary, converted to Islam, joined émigré brigade in Syria affiliated with al-Qaeda, active in fighting against Assad regime.
July 2013 – John Stewart Nuttall and Amanda Marie Korody, couple from Surry in British Columbia. Converted to Islam, arrested on suspicion of planning to bomb parliament building in Victoria.
July 2013 – unidentified individual, possibly Canadian resident, filmed with weapon in Homs, Syria, while fighting with rebel forces.
September 2013 – Omar Shafik Hammami (Abu Mansoor al-Amriki), U.S. citizen, resided several years in Canada and married Canadian woman (later divorced). Joined al-Shabab in Somalia, affiliated with al-Qaeda. Murdered in internal power struggle.
September 2013 – Ali Muhammad Dirie, Toronto resident of Somali descent. Joined Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, affiliated with al-Qaeda and killed in action. Dirie was convicted of involvement in Toronto 18 terrorist plot in 2006 and served a long prison term.
The list comprises fifteen Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada, two individuals who resided in Canada for several years, and two unidentified individuals who may have been Canadian citizens. Five (36 percent) of the Canadian citizens were Christians who converted to Islam, including two that are suspected of planning a terror attack within Canada, one who carried out a suicide attack in Algeria, one suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda, and one who enlisted with a Syrian rebel group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
The main involvement of Canadian terrorist activists was in Jihadi activity around the world: Syria, North Africa, Somalia, and against Israeli targets (Gaza, Bulgaria). Two large-scale terrorist attacks were planned within Canada in the past year, one on a train traveling to the U.S., and one against the parliament building in Victoria, BC. Sunni Islamic groups were involved in the overwhelming majority of incidents, with only one incident linked to the Shiite Hizbullah organization.
The above list confirms that the threat of terrorism in Canada has increased in the past two years, signified by the growth of the number of Canadian citizens willing to enlist in terrorist activity inspired or guided by radical Islamic terrorist groups. The “export” of Canadian terrorists (estimated at between dozens and hundreds) to the various Jihadi theaters of strife is likely to intensify the threat once they return home to Canada after having acquired knowledge and experience and networks of ties to terrorist organizations.