Photos of Martin Rouleau, a.k.a. Ahmad the Converted, via Facebook
Even though Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is remaining tight-lipped about the specifics of a “suspected terror attack” on Wednesday in Montreal, online Canadian jihadists currently plying their trade in Iraq and Syria are already making a martyr out of the suspected attacker.
Martin Rouleau—who went by the alias Ahmad LeConverti (a.k.a. Ahmad the Converted)—allegedly ran over two Canadian soldiers near a base south of Montreal before being chased and subsequently shot dead by police. One of the soldiers has died from his injuries in the hospital, and the other remians in critical condition.
While the prime minister's office has said that Rouleau had “become radicalized,” as of yet the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has not released any details concretely linking Rouleau with any extremist Islamic group. The RCMP did, however, confirm he was one of 90 Canadians being monitored for potential terrorist activities in Canada.
None of that stopped alleged Islamic State fighters with Canadian roots from tweeting congratulatory statements about the Quebecker.
Abu Kalid Al-Kanadi is a suspected Canadian jihadist in Syria widely known by his online alias. Last week, the supposed Torontonian posted messages inciting attacks against Canadians after Harper formally decided to increase military engagements in Iraq.
“My message is clear. Canada initiated attacks on the Islamic State, so Muslims in Canada, retaliate & KILL THEM WHEREVER YOU FIND THEM,” he wrote in a tweet (his account has since been suspended).
It’s clear the planned bombing campaigns against Islamic State targets didn’t sit well with fighters on the ground, who, like al-Kanadi, now use as a justification for terror attacks on Canadian soil.
“Canada sends jets and troops to the Muslim lands, and kill our people. Do you not expect Muslims to retaliate?” he said in his latest tweet storm.
Another fighter who identifies himself as Muthanna al-Kanadi and is suspected to be Ahmed Waseem of Windsor, similarly justified Rouleau’s alleged attacks, citing the newest Canadian war in Iraq as reason alone to expect retaliation.
Although unverified, it appears Rouleau had his own pseudonymous Twitter account, possibly in preparation for a reported move to Syria to join IS. The account, with few followers and the image of the Islamic State flag as a profile picture, wasn’t very active.
In late September a senior leader in IS urged Muslims abroad to kill "disbelievers" in the West. “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European—especially the spiteful and filthy French—or an Australian, or a Canadian,” said Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, “smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car.”
For the record, it’s believed Rouleau mowed down the two Canadian soldiers with his car before a high speed chase ended with unconfirmed reports of him charging a policewoman with a knife and before getting shot by police.
The brazen daylight attack has all the makings of a "lone wolf" operation that intelligence agencies have warned about for years. In fact, declassified Canadian intelligence documents show the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was already concerned about “bladed weapon attacks against military personnel.”
And you don’t have to look far for parallels. The 2013 attack in Woolwich, England—where a pair of radicals killed and attempted to decapitate a British soldier—serves as a prime example of the difficulties in stopping small scale terrorist operators. If IS sympathizers have been radicalized but remain outside of known terrorist networks, it's awfully hard to find them.
When the Canadian jihadist Abu Usamah told me that Canada was now a terror target for the Islamic State, former CSIS spy Michel Juneau-Katsuya explained that those threats should be taken seriously.
“We cannot joke with [threats], or put our heads in the sand and say ‘it’s not going to happen here, we’re the good guys,'” he said. “Because we’re not identified as the good guys anymore. We’re identified as part of the coalition. Our Prime Minister has been quite vocal… We must assume there’s a threat.”
At the time, it was already clear IS-linked militants were planning attacks in Western nations, and the the former CSIS agent was certain Canada would become a target for militants both professional and amateur.
“We don’t necessarily have any open information that they currently have sleeping agents in Canada,” Juneau-Katsuya said at the time. “That said, we know they have been capable of recruiting. So if they’re capable of recruiting people who have left the country to fight with them, we might assume they’re capable of telling new recruits, ‘Stay put, we’re going to tell you what to do in Canada.’”
One security expert that I spoke with in the immediate aftermath of the Rouleau attacks told me the real danger now is how a successful lone wolf affects the thinking of other, similar actors. Does it provide the prototype for a true-blue jihadist? Or is this simply the work of a troubled twentysomething?
Only time will tell and the new details from the RCMP investigation into Rouleau that will emerge. For now, IS's online supporters don’t seem to care what Rouleau’s legacy at home will be, because he’s already their new Canadian martyr.
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