May 6, 2004. 10:49 PM
CSIS chief warns of Al Qaeda attack
Terror attack in Canada 'no longer a question of if, but rather of when or where,' he tells MPs


It's just a matter of time before Al Qaeda tries to attack Canadian targets, the head of Canada's spy agency said Thursday as he warned against complacency.

Ward Elcock, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told MPs at a Commons committee meeting that Canada is not immune to terrorism.

"As Al Qaeda 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," said Elcock, whose term with the spy agency ends this month.

Canada has been identified twice as a potential target by the Al Qaeda network. Early this year, a militant Islamic manual listed Canada fifth out of six target countries. The others, the United States, Britain, Spain, Australia and Italy have all suffered attacks or attempted attacks at home or abroad.

Public Security Minister Anne McLellan wouldn't go as far as Elcock, but said attacks were possible.

"I'm not sure that I would say it's inevitable," said McLellan.

"I can reassure Canadians that we are not the target of any direct or specific threat at this time."

But John Thompson, a security expert with the Mackenzie Institute, said Elcock's assessment was fair.

"Of all the nations Al Qaeda has attacked since 9/11, Canada is the only nation that Osama bin Laden has specifically mentioned that they haven't tried an attack on yet," he told CBC-TV's the National.

Canada announced a sweeping new security plan last week, part of which calls for more money for intelligence gathering abroad.

Elcock told the committee Thursday that many more Canadian agents are involved in covert operations overseas.

But Thompson said most of those operations simply involve touching base with other intelligence networks.

"Don't think that we're doing cloak-and-dagger operations overseas or that there are members of CSIS who are skulking around cloak-and-dagger style in Europe," he said. "They're talking to their confederates and they're talking to open sources in Iraq and when they're talking to them they leave their business cards behind."

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