Published on TaipeiTimes

Canadian security head says attack by al-Qaeda inevitable

Saturday, May 08, 2004,Page 7

It is inevitable that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network will try to mount terror attacks in Canada and against Canadian targets abroad, Canada's spy chief said on Thursday.

Ward Elcock, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, also said CSIS had already prevented terror attacks in Canada and revealed his operatives were mounting an increasing number of spying missions abroad.

Elcock said directives believed to be from al-Qaeda had singled out Canada and Canadians as targets twice over the past two years.

"As al-Qaeda has directly threatened Canadians twice in as many years, the last time only a month ago, it is therefore safe to assume that it is no longer a question of if, but rather of when or where, we will be specifically targeted," he told Parliament's national security sub-committee.

Public Security Minister Anne McLellan said later that while Elcock was "painting a fairly realistic picture" about the risks, it was by no means guaranteed that al-Qaeda would launch an attack.

"I'm not sure that I would say it's inevitable ... [but] we live in a very complex world and we must be prepared for the possibility that we will be the target of a direct threat or attack," she told reporters.

Elcock repeated a long-held CSIS assertion that "indigenous and foreign terrorists" had long been active in Canada, some using the country as a base for foreign missions.

"Canada's history is not free of terrorist violence. Nor is its future," he said, adding that CSIS was monitoring all groups considered dangerous.

"I believe in some cases we have prevented terrorist attacks or the preparation for terrorist attacks," said Elcock, declining to give further details.

Canadian police arrested a software developer in Ottawa in late March and charged him with planning explosions in both the Canadian and British capitals.

Police say the case of Mohammed Momin Khawaja is linked to that of five men arrested in Britain with half a tonne of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Khawaja's bail hearing was to continue yesterday.

Canada opposed the war on Iraq but did send 2,000 troops to Afghanistan to take part in a NATO-led peacekeeping mission.

Elcock -- touching upon a topic normally kept firmly under wraps in Ottawa -- said that one way of combating terror attacks was the growing number of spying missions CSIS agents were now mounting abroad.

"Since the late 1990s ... the service has increasingly engaged in covert foreign operations. This change was due in part to the changing nature of the threat. It was also a logical development of the service's growing expertise in carrying out such operations," he said.

"CSIS has expanded the range of foreign operations to include tasking human sources to travel abroad, recruiting foreign sources and meeting those sources in third countries."

Elcock said the number of liaison arrangements with foreign security and intelligence organizations had grown from around 50 in the late 1980s to nearly 250 today.