Terrorist attack intended to disrupt Canadian election unlikely: experts
May 28, 2004
OTTAWA (CP) - Canada may well be a terrorist target, but experts say it's unlikely that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida would time a strike in an effort to influence the federal election.
The defeat of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in March just days after bombs ripped through four commuter trains, killing almost 200 people, prompts the question: Could a similar scenario unfold in Canada? The notion takes on added urgency following the dramatic warning from Washington this week that seven suspected al-Qaida terrorists, two of them Canadians, may be plotting a major assault on the United States.
Some who follow security issues doubt the Madrid attacks, widely blamed on al-Qaida, raise the spectre of an impending operation aimed at shaking the Liberal government's resolve to battle terrorism.
Unlike Canada, Spain was among the few western nations to fight alongside the United States against Iraq's Saddam Hussein - a stand many believe earned Aznar the wrath of bin Laden's network.
The fact the Spanish election date was known well in advance allowed for the extensive planning deemed necessary to carry out the Madrid bombings.
Such a scheme would require a year or more of careful plotting, said Wesley Wark, a history professor at the University of Toronto.
"I think the very nature of that kind of operational planning requirement rules out an effort to target the very slippery and moving date of a Canadian national election."
Wark is also somewhat skeptical that even the perpetrators of the Spanish assaults foresaw the electoral defeat and subsequent withdrawal of troops from Iraq the bombings apparently caused.
"That was the outcome, but I'm not sure that was the plan," Wark said.
"We are perhaps reading too much into the Madrid bombing in trying to draw potential parallels between that strike and any such similar activity targeted against the Canadian national election."
It cannot be assumed that a terrorist attack against Canada would drive a wedge into the public arena as it did in Spain, said Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the standing Senate committee on national security and defence.
"If the bombing in Madrid had an outcome on the election, I'm not sure that you would have the same reaction in Canada. My sense is that Canadians are very united on the war against terrorism."
The RCMP, responsible for protecting federal leaders during the campaign, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the national spy agency, say they monitor and assess potential threats on a continual basis.
"There's a number of factors at any given time that are taken into consideration," said CSIS spokeswoman Nicole Currier.
The election call "doesn't change the way we do our work or produce our assessments."
Norm Inkster, a security consultant and former RCMP commissioner, says while the chances of an attack on Canada are not high, the events in Spain will colour protective efforts during the campaign.
"I think what happened in Madrid would certainly be in the minds of the RCMP and others who are concerned with protecting the party leaders, and that would be a consideration," Inkster said.
"I'm not suggesting that anything might happen here. But at the same time it did happen elsewhere and so that does enter into the thinking and the planning of security officials."
Canada has long been seen as a less attractive target than the United States, with terrorists setting up residence in cities such as Montreal and Toronto to raise funds, obtain false identification papers and hatch international plots.
Ultimately, Islamic extremists may refrain from attacking Canada to prevent those support networks from being exposed, Wark suggested.
"There are no signs really that an effort to disrupt a Canadian election would be of sufficient significance to al-Qaida to warrant the effort and the risk."
© The Canadian Press 2004
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