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B.C. terror plot: How seriously should we be taking terrorism in Canada?
The bombs allegedly intended to detonate at the peak of Canada Day celebrations in Victoria, B.C. may not have gone off. But damage to the country has undoubtedly been caused.
When RCMP announced last week they thwarted a terrorist plot — and arrested Canadian couple John Nuttall and Amanda Korody — it was the second such announcement in less than three months.
Even in April, at the force’s news conference revealing an alleged Al Qaeda-directed plot to derail a Toronto passenger train, it already seemed there had been a barrage of terrorism too close for comfort: Days before, bombs exploded at the Boston marathon. Before that, the revelation that London, Ont. boys had participated in the Al Qaeda-linked attack in Algeria.
As each terrorist act or attempt chips away at the collective Canadian sense of security, many have been left asking: how seriously should we be taking the threat of terrorism on our soil?
Experts who study radicalization and terrorism agree that incidents such as the B.C. plot should not be shrugged off. But Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa terrorism expert, says he does not think there’s any special meaning in the seeming “crescendo” of terrorist incidents.
Canadians are actually safer than ever, he says — national counter terrorism efforts have vastly improved over the last decade, and Al Qaeda has been significantly weakened in many ways since Sept. 11.
“Our capacity to deal with terrorism offences is much greater, while at the same time the threat posed by terrorism is I think clearly on the decline,” Wark said.
The details revealed in the alleged B.C. terror plot suggest Nuttall and Korody could have been a pair of amateurs — marginal, troubled individuals acting alone. Friends and neighbours have expressed disbelief that the couple, who have struggled with money and have a history of drug problems, would hatch a terrorist plot.
Bill Durodié, a terrorism researcher and professor at Royal Roads University’s School of Peace and Conflict Management, said it’s possible to be drawn to the idea of terrorism itself, and to have no significant higher purpose. There are many past cases of fringe individuals who could be classified as “wannabe terrorists.”
“They are unaffiliated in any way, and largely fantasizing about being terrorists, possibly due to the fact that they know that in contemporary culture we provide them with 24 hour media coverage and notoriety,” he said.
Korody and Nuttall may have felt alienated from the world around them. In some cases, would-be attackers have been attempting to gain notoriety, said Andrew Rippin, a University of Victoria professor emeritus who studies history and Qur’an.
“I think these are the lessons we have learned from people such as suicide bombers; the genuineness of their religious beliefs is less significant than their need to act out to gain recognition,” he said in an email to the Star.
Regardless of a motive in the alleged B.C. plot, lone wolf terrorists pose a significant threat, said Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer for CSIS.
“Everybody will agree that (terrorists) are borderline deranged,” he said. “But when they are working individually, they are the most difficult to catch . . . and extremely difficult to investigate.”
Juneau-Katsuya commended RCMP and CSIS for foiling the alleged plot, but pointed out that since 2005, 30 bombs have gone off in Canada, including the firebombing of an Ottawa bank in 2010.
He says Canadians need to be working to understand the causes of terrorism and extremism in the first place.
“The government has to be proactive,” Juneau-Katsuya said. “One of the first things they have to do is understand what radicalization process is about.”
Veronica Kitchen, a University of Waterloo associate professor and counterterrorism scholar, acknowledged that it can feel alarming when there are numerous incidences of terrorism. But Canadians are still far more likely to die in a car accident than a terrorist attack, she said.
“I think that there’s always the problem of creating a culture of fear. There’s always the problem of inflating this kind of a threat into something bigger than it’s likely to be,” Kitchen said.
Durodié adds that the effectiveness of terrorists is “almost entirely” dependent on the reaction of the society.
“The more notoriety we provide them, the greater effect they have. We complete the act of terror.”