Threat: An Evolving Terrorist Threat

AuthorCraig Forcese; Kent Roach
Threat: An Evolving Terrorist Threat
Terrorist Designs
In , an al-Qaida recording singled out Canada — along with France,
Italy, Germany, and Australia — for allying itself “with A merica to attack us
in Afghanistan.” On the tape, the speaker — likely Osa ma bin Laden — as-
serted, “as you kill you will be k illed, and as you bomb you will be bombed.”
Subsequently, Canadian ocials pointed often to this statement — and
a follow-up issued in  — in describing the terrorist threat to Canada.
Documents seized by US soldiers from his Pakista ni compound suggested
that bin Laden continued to harbour terrorist designs on Canada (among
other countries) up until his death.
Al-Qaida is not the only terrorist group to menace Canada. e So-
mali terrorist group al-Shabaab ha s attacked people in Uganda for watching
football games and ta rgeted courthouses a nd other venues in Somalia. Most
famously, it killed  innocent shoppers in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi,
Kenya, and  innocent students at Kenya’s Garissa University. It also called
for terrorist attacks in Canada in February  during the Bill C- debate.
e video called “upon our Muslim brothers, particularly those in the West,
to answer the call of Allah and ta rget disbelievers wherever they are . . . what
if such an attack was to occur in the Mall of A merica in Minnesota? Or the
West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?”
Al-Shabaab has exercised inuence over young Canadians, of ten of So-
mali desc ent. e rst Canadian convicted of attempting to leave Canada
to join a terrorist group was imprisoned for trying to join al-Shabaab. But
not everyone has been caught. Intelligence estimates from several years a go
suggest that as ma ny as twenty Canadians have joined the terrorist group.
Most notoriously, in , six young Somali-C anadians left Toronto to ght
in the organization. At least four of them were killed. Two others reportedly
became disillusioned with the terrorist group and lef t it but remained in
Somali a.
Since then, some reports have suggested that Western recruitment into
al-Shabaab has declined because “al Shabaab has delegitimized itself ” with
many correctly concluding that the group does not “understand Isla m. e
US Department of State is apparently not convinced. In February , it
held counter–violent extremism meetings with the Soma li community in
Toronto and Ottawa. In Chapter , we will suggest that such meetings are
a good idea, although it would have been a better idea for the Canad ian gov-
ernment to assume the lead.
A variety of foreign terrorist groups continue to attract Canad ians. is
is a dark side of globalization — people may be in Cana da one day and trans-
national terrorists days later. Most recently, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and
Syria) has been in ascendance. L ike its predecessors, that group has issued a
threatening cal l to arms. Weeks before the two terrorist attack s in October
, an ISIS audio recording had been sha red widely on social media. e
propagandist on the recording stated as follows:
If you can kil l a disbelieving America n or European — especially the spite-
ful and lthy French — or an Au stralia n, or a Canadian, or any ot her
disbeliever from the d isbelievers wagi ng war, including the citiz ens of the
countries that entered into a coa lition against the Islamic St ate . . . kill him
in any manner or way however it may be.
Canadian foreign terrorist g hters associated with ISIS have recorded simila r
chilling messages.
And in a development that we have probably not seen in the West on
this scale since the Spanish Civil War, an apparently swelling number of
Canadians a nd thousands of other citizens of Western countries have joined
ISIS in Iraq and Syria, creating a new preoccupation with foreign terrorist
Chapter Three: Threat
Terrorist Risk
ese terrorist groups have all broadcast sobering messages, and their ca lls
have resonated with at least some people. Stated intent may be an important
indicator of threat, especially when associated with groups of great depravity
and, indeed, evil. But deciding how and where to respond to evil requires a
clear-eyed assessment of the adversary ’s ability to act on its intent in a manner
aecting Canada and Canadians. Put another way, it is important to distin-
guish between great evil and great risk.
A failure to do so can muddle responses and contribute to the phenom-
enon of over- and underreaction discussed in the last chapter. On the one
hand, we should not ignore an adversary who has promised to harm us, or
our interests, and who may have the ability to act on that threat. To do so
may lead us to underreact, in the way we did with A ir India. But on the
other hand, there is serious danger in conating struggles against evil with
an existential crisi s. e air campaign over Kosovo in the s, for example,
was about confronting evil — crimes a gainst humanity and feared genocide.
Canada’s participation in World War II was also about facing down ev il but
was additionally an ex istential struggle in which there was serious doubt as
to whether democracy would persist on the pla net.
In an existential crisis, a struggle for sur vival, many other values in a
society may be set aside. Our Emergencies Act recognizes this by allowing
some suspension of the regular law of the land while a lso containing valuable
pre-commitments not to repeat the mistakes of the past by interning citizens
on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic or national origin. It also provides for
parliamentary super vision and review (including access to secret informa-
tion), public inquiries, and compensation to those who have been harmed in
responding to existential th reats. Too readily asserting an ex istential struggle
in circumstances short of a true emergency — without the safeguards in the
Emergencies Act — risks creating a permanent emergency, one that sacrices
the rule of law and our other animating values.
ere is also danger in conating depravity with threat a nd then bund-
ling it with a war metaphor. A failure to distinguish between a true situation
of armed conict and smaller scale criminal conduct can produce an evil
greater than the one being confronted. at is becau se the laws of war accept
the use of lethal force as a proper instr ument of policy, at least when directed
at those labelled combatants; crimina l law rules are more demanding, re-
quiring self-defence or other justications that narrow the circumstances in
which lethal force may be used. e laws of wa r accept that enemies may, and
indeed should, be killed without due process; crimina l law rules are gea red
toward due process. e laws of war accept that there will be collateral cas-
ualties and that innoc ents will be injured; crimina l law rules do not. e laws

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