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Homegrown Extremism in Canada Is Nothing New

Many were left stunned after last week's terrorist attacks in Canada. But the real surprise is that the country hadn't become a target sooner.

by Raf Katigbak
Oct 25 2014, 1:25pm

Imagen vía Flickr

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

Following the brazen attack on two soldiers in Quebec this past Monday, and the terrible events that unfolded at Canada's Parliament Hill Wednesday, the reaction in Canada and abroad was a mix of shock and disbelief. Many were left stunned by the idea of the sleepy, peace-loving nation of Canada being hit by two homegrown attacks carried out by radicalized citizens.

But for anyone following national security in this country, these attacks should not come as a surprise. In fact, as Glenn Greenwald outlined on the Intercept following Monday's attack, it's more of a surprise that it didn't happen sooner.

Canada has been long seen as a safe haven for extremism; a mix of liberal immigration policies and a belief in an inclusive society have made it the perfect place for planning and plotting, as evidenced by the string of attacks planned or carried out in Canada. Unfortunately we also have a rocky history of giving citizenship to militants from abroad. It's well-known that Toronto-born Omar Khadr — the last Western citizen to be held by the US at Guantanamo Bay — came from a family known for their connections to Osama bin Laden and had alleged connections to al Qaeda. Add to that Canada's engagement in Afghanistan beginning in 2001 when our soldiers and warplanes actively fought in a Muslim country, and you have a climate ripe for fostering homegrown extremism.

The two attacks this past week came amid the deployment of six Canadian CF-18 combat aircraft destined to join the armada amassing against the Islamic State. It's now clear that Canada — like FranceBelgium and Australia — is not immune to these sorts of attacks. And one needn't look far in the past to see how close Canada has already come to planned acts of terrorism on Canadian soil.

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In April of last year, Canadian and American authorities disrupted a plot to attack Via Rail passenger trains running between Toronto and New York. In 2006, the infamous Toronto 18 were arrested after plotting a series of attacks against targets in Southern Ontario allegedly inspired by al Qaeda. Two years before that, a homegrown terrorist living in his parents' basement in Ottawa was arrested for allegedly creating bomb detonators for al Qaeda.

In addition, the Air India bombing of 1984 was the most spectacular terrorist attack in Canadian history — and the work of Canadian-based terrorists who plotted within our borders. But these incidents, in comparison to last week's attacks by Martin Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, were more organized and had more moving parts. It's that increased complexity that allows those kinds of attacks to be more easily detected and stopped, since the communication networks used to plan them are more likely to be monitored by law enforcement.

But by including Canadians in a recent call on supporters to kill citizens of countries that have entered the coalition fighting the militant group "in any manner or way however it may be," the Islamic State has changed the game on terrorism at home. And with Canada's latest bombing campaign set to take effect, we're now as much a combatant in Iraq as America.

The fact is, terrorist attacks have long been a threat in Canada. But now, with more active engagement in the Middle East, and an atmosphere in which potential threats are perhaps more easily radicalized and instantly martyred on social media, potential actors in Canada now have even more reason to act out.

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In a press conference following Wednesday's attack, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson spoke about the challenges in stopping lone-wolf attacks. "These are difficult threats to detect," he said. "There is no way to know when or where these attacks will happen." He added that there are currently 93 "high-risk" individuals under investigation as potential threats to the country.

It's both interesting and worrisome that according to Paulson, Zehaf-Bibeau was not on that list.

Follow Raf Katigbak on Twitter: @katigburgers

Photo via Flickr

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