May 13, 2005

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Canada fears new generation of terrorists

By Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor

Washington, DC, May. 12 (UPI) -- Two declassified reports from Canadian intelligence say a generation of young jihadists with Canadian nationality or residency who have been through terrorist training camps in Afghanistan or elsewhere constitute "a clear and present danger to Canada and its allies," highlighting fears that the United States' northern neighbor might become a staging post for terror attacks here.

"The presence of young, committed jihadists in Canada is a matter of grave concern," states one report, titled "Sons of the Father: The next generation of Islamic extremists in Canada."

"They represent a clear and present danger to Canada and its allies and are a particularly valuable resource for the international Islamic terrorist community in view of their language skills and familiarity with Western culture and infrastructure," the report goes on.

Barbara Campion, spokeswoman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told United Press International that the situation was "alarming because (in many cases) these are people who don't have any obvious pedigree in extremism or connection to terrorist groups."

In other cases, however, individuals with long and well-known histories of association with terrorist groups are at large in the country, apparently continuing to organize.

Jim Judd, the service's director, told a Canadian Senate hearing recently that there were "several graduates of terrorist training camps, many of whom are battle-hardened veterans of campaigns in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and elsewhere" currently living in Canada.

"Often these individuals remain in contact with one another ... or with colleagues outside of the country," he went on, "and continue to show signs of ongoing clandestine-type activities, including the use of counter surveillance techniques, secretive meetings and encrypted communications."

Yet a third group, according to the report, is made up of the sons of jihadist fathers.

The report notes that Islamic culture places a premium on "obedience to parental figures. ... The duty to obey also explains why some youth have agreed to Afghanistan and Pakistan for terrorist training."

This is an apparent reference to the family of Ahmed Said Khadr, a close associate of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s.

Khadr, a veteran of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, was killed in a gun battle with Pakistani police in October 2003. His youngest son, Omar, 18, is currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, accused of involvement in the killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

Another son, 22-year-old Abdurahman, was released from Guantanamo in 2003 and now lives in Toronto.

"We are an al-Qaida family," he told Canadian television last year, adding that he had resisted his father's entreaties to become a suicide bomber and renounced his support for al-Qaida.

The intelligence reports, released to the National Post newspaper under Canada's Access to Information Act, were produced in April 2004, but Campion said "the situation depicted ... continues to be accurate."

Campion would not comment on the numbers of suspected second-generation jihadists in Canada, but she said the service was generally monitoring a fluid total of about 350 individuals and organizations -- in Canada and abroad -- who pose threat of one kind or another.

Because Canada's Anti-Terrorist Act -- passed in December 2001 -- is not retroactive, it does not cover acts carried out before that time, she said. Other officials say that explains why people known to be graduates of terrorist training camps are still at large.

The provisions of the law are "very comprehensive," said Campion. "They basically outlaw any kind of support for terrorist groups."

"It is safe to say we are keeping an eye on them," Campion said of the second-generation jihadists, adding that investigations were continuing and that "whenever we find something that might be of use to law enforcement or immigration agencies, we pass that along."

Five suspected Islamic extremists are currently being detained under so-called National Security Certificates -- an administrative procedure under which foreigners can be held and deported.

But Judd told the Senate that preparing the dossier for such detention "is enormously work intensive. It sometimes takes more than a year."

Campion said the service was also working "very, very closely" with its U.S. counterparts and that "if we have information we think an intelligence partner needs to know, we pass that right along."

An increased focus on that kind of information-sharing is one of the important changes that have occurred since the reports were written, according to Alex Swann, director of communications for Canada's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Anne McLellan.

"We have set up the Integrated Threat Assessment Center," Swann told UPI, describing it as a "clearinghouse for information" about terrorist threats.

The center provides "a more timely turnaround of assessment (of threat data)," he said, and replaces "individual, ad hoc" decisions on what to share with "a mandatory requirement on all government departments and law enforcement agencies with counter-terrorist responsibilities to report (what they know) on a regular basis."

Swann was also keen to stress that Canada was "only one of many nations facing this challenge," adding that any open society with an Islamic immigrant population might be vulnerable.

"The type of persons attracted to terrorist networks is changing in worrisome ways," Judd told the Canadian Senate. "More are being found in the second generation of immigrant families in Europe, Canada, the United States and elsewhere."

The other declassified report, titled, "Al-Qaida attack planning against North American targets," says Canada is high on the list of the terror group's targets because of its presence in Afghanistan. The nation was listed the fifth most important target by al-Qaida in March 2004, "behind the United States, Britain, Spain and Australia."

"Canada is the only country listed above which has thus far not been directly attacked by al-Qaida," the report notes ominously.

It goes on to warn that "those dedicated extremists possessing terrorist training and Canadian documentation may return to Canada in order to carry out an attack."

But it is the possibility that Canada might be used as a base to plan and organize attacks against its neighbor to the south that worries U.S. officials.

"Intelligence reports indicate that terrorist groups locate in Canada in part because of Canada's liberal visa and asylum laws and the country's proximity to the United States," Inspector General of the Justice Department Michael Bromwich told Congress in 1999.

Later that year, Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who had sought asylum in Canada, was arrested attempting to enter the United States with ingredients for a bomb he planned to use to attack Los Angeles International Airport.

As Canadian citizens, second-generation jihadists would be entitled to cross the border into the United States without a passport -- something that the Sept. 11 Commission identified as a serious vulnerability that continues to alarm U.S. counter-terror specialists.

"Those concerns are legitimate," Campion told UPI.

But speaking in Toronto Wednesday, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge dismissed criticism of Canada as a haven or shelter for terrorists, praising it as an able partner in guarding the world's longest border.

"I don't accept the thesis that Canada is lenient or hasn't done what it needs to do to ... do their share to combat terrorism," Ridge said after a luncheon speech to business leaders, according to the Canadian Press news service.

Last month the departments of State and Homeland Security rolled out a plan to phase in a requirement for the use of passports "or other secure documents" at the border, but a few days later President Bush vowed to reconsider the change.

"When I first read that in the newspaper ... I said, 'what's going on here,'" he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors.


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