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Editorial: Grappling with home-grown terrorism

September, 2010

Our languid summer ways were jolted last month when news broke about the arrest of three young men on terrorism-related charges. They were charged with taking part in a domestic plot and possessing schematics, electronics and created improvised explosive devices.

It bore striking similarities to the so-called Toronto 18, a group of young Muslim men arrested four years ago for conspiring to send Ottawa a deadly message over Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan. Inspired by violent jihadi videos, they planned to strike Parliament Hill and roll out truck bombs in downtown Toronto to cause catastrophic damage and carnage.

In the latest arrest, a Montreal native and McGill Universi ty graduate living and working as a pathologist in London, Ontario is among three men charged with participating in a terrorist plot.

Once again, this is no sleeper cell planted years ago from some far-away land waiting for a call to action from a mountain redoubt. Khurram Sher, 28, one of those arrested, was a high-achieving Brossard native selected to proceed directly from CEGEP to the McGill medical faculty. He was a strong hockey player, he prayed at the local mosque, he even auditioned for Canadian Idol last year, singing, off key, Avril Lavigne’s hit Complicated while wearing a traditional Pakistani outfit. But this seemingly all-Canadian young man was also touched by world events.

The global village was a reality for Khurram Sher who went to Pakistan in 2006 as part of an aid group sent to an earthquake in Kashmir. In 2008 he spent three weeks interning at a hospital in East Jerusalem. These trips may have contributed to his perception of inequality or mistreatment for Muslims, and fuelled his move to radicalism. There is nothing new about young idealists deciding that radical means are needed to wake up the world to their vision of injustice, or simply to lash out.

Let’s recall the bombings by the Front de Libération du Québec terrorists in the 1960s and 1970s, the Weather Underground in the United States in the mid-1970s, and Direct Action, also known as the Squamish Five in 1982 set off a bomb that caused $5 million in damages and stalled a hydro project in B.C.

What is different in the case of Muslim extremists is that they are propelled by massive media coverage of Jihadist actions around the world and the perceived injustices affecting fellow believers. RCMP assistant commissioner Gilles Michaud, who runs the Mounties national security program, identified the threat of home-grown terrorism as the new challenge for security forces.

“It’s people who have been living here, who have been born here, who have grown up here, and they’re (a part of) society. It makes it harder to spot,” he told the Globe and Mail.

It reportedly took 100 officers a year working full-time to gather the evidence needed to make the arrests – an investment in personnel that is necessary, he explained, because “you cannot afford to miss any information, any threat that would set off an attack here.”

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service carried out a parallel investigation, but its role is to inform governments on threats, while the RCMP gathers evidence. Most Canadians would agree that these efforts must continue. We also expect that basic freedoms, including the right to peaceful protest as part of free expression, are maintained.

Security forces need to be vigilant, as in the recent arrests, when those with strong Muslim views develop a belief that their co-religionists are under attack and develop a loathing for whichever group they determine to be the oppressor.



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