If there were ever a time when Canada`s national security agencies were scrambling it has been the last year. It`s not that Canada has faced an attack at home, although it is estimated that CSIS and the RCMP are tracking just over 300 individuals. The real cause for concern for Canada has been the flood of foreign terrorist attacks carried out by individuals carrying Canadian citizenship.
While it is certainly the case that Canada actively participates with its Five Eyes partners (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom) in gathering intelligence that is critical to our common interests and protection. Canada seems to of been unable to stop a steady tide of individuals radicalized in Canada and propelled towards violent extremism overseas.
Ahmad Samir Al-Taraiki – On the 23rd of April the Memri Institute released a document identifying yet another Canadian who has died overseas after leaving University to fight in Syria. The report documents that TARAIKI’s death was posted on a site affiliated with Al-Nusra Front in Syria a group recently designated a terrorist organization by the Australian and American government.
The facebook page reads, “Martyr, God willing, Ahmad Samir Al-Taraiki – Misratah – Libya. Cited in the countryside of Lattakia (he) left his studies in Canada to support the brothers in Syria..”
Mahad Ali DHORE – In early April it was alleged a former Canadian York University student Mahad Ali DHORE, was involved in an al-shabaab attack on the Mogadishu court killing 35 people including the 9 militants. DHORE is believed to have left for Somalia four years ago to join with Al-Shabaab.
Ali MEDLEJ, Xris KATSIROUBAS and Aaron YOON – All three individuals left London, Ontario for Africa where officials allege they joined Al-Qaeda offshoots. KATSIROUBAS and MEDLEJ are alleged to have led an attack on an Algerian Gas plant. Taking its workers hostage the terrorist killed three dozen workers when Algerian forces moved in. Their friend Aaron YOON was arrested by Mauritanian police after he was found guilty of joining AQIM in north Mali.
Bulgarian Tour Bus attack – In July 2012 an as yet unnamed dual Canadian/Lebanese citizen linked to Hezbollah was involved in an attack on a Bulgarian tourist bus carrying Israeli citizens. The individual targeted the Israeli tourists and walked onto the bus at which point he detonated his explosive.
Toronto Star Baird report
William PLOTNIKOV – PLOTNIKOV immigrated to Canada with his parents as a child. He was an accomplished boxer who converted to Islam and was subsequently drawn into a radical form of the religion. At odds with his parents he travelled to Dagestan where it is believed he connected with Shariat Jamaat an extremist group in the North Caucasus. PLOTNIKOV and several other jihadists were eventually killed in a shoot-out with Russian military forces.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has stated that more will be done to combat violent extremism in the future. In actuality Canada is at the forefront of several projects on preventing violent extremism. In 2009 Dr Elaine Pressman released the Violent Extremist Risk Assessment (VERA) structured guidance tool. The tool enables the trained user to be able to assess the subject on a number of factors found to be influential in violent extremism. This tool is currently undergoing testing for viability in broad application.
Other researchers (withheld) using the Identifying Vulnerable Persons (IVP) structured guidance tool have shown positive results in intervening with persons at risk of recruitment to extremist groups. Developed in the UK by Jon Cole, Emily Alison, Ben Cole, and Laurence Alison the researchers examined over 300 known extremist to identify common behaviours. From that examination a list of 16 criteria were identified to help evaluate subjects at risk. Using the IVP practitioners have generated hundreds of instances of actionable intelligence on individuals and groups that have contributed to extremism investigations around the world. The tool is ideologically neutral in its application and therefor does not target individuals from a specific religion or culture.
Part of the change in mindset needs to take place at a national level. By that I mean we simply cannot rely on the police to be able to catch all of the bad guys 100 percent of the time. This is the whole purpose behind the “See Something, Say Something“ campaigns being used to help prevent terrorist attacks.
If we reframe the solution to violent extremism from the approach of prevention there needs to be a larger interaction at a government and institutional level. At school we teach prevention with regards to drugs and alcohol, sex education, bullying and school violence. In our doctor’s office they screen for signs of mental illness, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. We need to take the same approach with violent extremism, the goal not necessarily being to catching terrorists, but of preventing persons on that path to terrorism.
One of the friends of Ali MEDLEJ commented to reporters that Ali had stated he did not want to give up women and drinking. Medlej stated, “There’s things that I just can’t give up on in my lifestyle, and it’s hard for me to be a practising Muslim, so why don’t I just be a shaheed [martyr] and go straight to heaven instead of all the effort that I can’t seem to do.” . That simple comment actually strikes against two criteria on the IVP guidance tool. Those types of comments in the hands of practitioners have the potential to add great value in the assessment of individuals at risk. If we provide the tools for teachers, religious leaders, social workers, doctors and other professionals to pick up on at risk behaviours our ability to intervene increases dramatically. It isn`t about making them “spies“! It is about being able to do the same type of prevention activities that we already engage in on a day to day basis.
By Jeff R. Weyers