OTTAWA - Martin Rouleau, the suspected homegrown terrorist behind an ambush on two Canadian soldiers, had his passport seized by RCMP and may have been frustrated in his desire to travel to join Islamic State before lying in wait two hours to run his victims down, the RCMP says.
Asked whether Rouleau had become more dangerous as a result of authorities pulling his travel document, Commissioner Bob Paulson told reporters in Ottawa, “Certainly that’s what follows from the analysis.”
“His passport was seized by us. He was part of our investigative efforts to try and identify those people who might commit the criminal act of travelling abroad for terrorist purposes. So in that respect we were working him along with other suspects.”
Paulson acknowledged Rouleau was among the 90 individuals under active RCMP surveillance that he had referred to at a parliamentary committee two weeks ago.
But the top Mountie shed little light on how Rouleau was able to pull off his crime, which killed 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injured another soldier.
The RCMP is concerned whether there are other sympathizers who might be inclined to act as Rouleau did, he conceded.
“We don’t suspect that, but we’re open to that and we’re concerned about that so we’re going to pursuing every investigative avenue to satisfy ourselves that we’ve eliminated that possibility.”
Asked whether there is still a risk for military personnel in the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu area, Paulson said: “That’s a larger issue that will be informed by the full investigation and we have to get on that and make sure we can satisfy ourselves that we have a full understanding of his reach and his connections.”
Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of defence staff, said the motivation for the incident remained under investigation but said that safety of Canadian Forces’ members is a “primary concern.
“There has been speculation that this hit-and-run may have been a possible terror attack directed at our members. Police are investigating this incident and will make a determination once their investigation is concluded,” Lawson said.
“Security measures are in place at every Canadian Armed Forces installation across Canada. We continually adapt these measures to meet the demands of an evolving security environment, and we will remain vigilant against possible threats.”
Quebec provincial police said they believe Rouleau may have been lying in wait for more than two hours before running his victims down with his car.
Police have uncovered evidence Rouleau had been sitting in the parking lot outside a federal building that offers support to Canadian military veterans and other personnel as early as 9:15 a.m. Monday. The attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, south of Montreal, occurred around 11:30 a.m.
Rouleau, 25, was shot by police after a brief chase that ended about four kilometres from the site of the hit-and-run and died several hours later in hospital.
“He was sitting in the car in the parking lot,” said police spokesman Lt. Guy Lapointe. “The working thesis is that this was a deliberate act.”
Police also revealed that one of the two victims had been wearing a Canadian Forces uniform. They haven’t named the surviving victim.
In a news conference, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the attack is linked to “terrorist ideology.”
“This is a terrible act of violence against our country, against our military, against our values,” Blaney said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences to the family of the dead soldier and prayers for the recovery of the injured one.
“I learned with shock and sadness yesterday that two Canadian Armed Forces members from Canadian Forces Base Saint-Jean Garrison were hit by a man who, according to our national security services, had become radicalized,” Harper said in a statement Tuesday.
“I want to express that the authorities can count on our full support in order to get to the bottom of this terrible act,” Harper said.
The RCMP and Prime Minister’s Office had said Monday that Rouleau was known to federal anti-terrorism investigators who were concerned the he had become “radicalized.”
The incident comes as Canada joins combat operations against Islamic State extremists in Iraq, a mission that has raised worries of possible reprisals here. Six CF-18 fighter jets were scheduled to fly to the Middle East from CFB Cold Lake in Alberta on Tuesday.
During his visit to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu on Tuesday, Blaney said that while the incident remains under police investigation, there was little doubt it was no mere criminal act.
“What took place yesterday is clearly linked to terrorist ideology,” Blaney told reporters during a brief news conference.
“We are taking this seriously. This tragedy reminds us that the threat is real.”
Blaney said he was not aware of any order to the military suggesting they not wear their uniform in public.
“We are in a free country. Those who will pose some criminal acts will face the brunt of the law,” he said.
Blaney was joined by Lise Thériault, Quebec’s public security minister.
She urged people who might be in contact with “someone who could be radicalized” to notify police.
The question remains how an individual who the RCMP admitted was in its sights as having been radicalized could commit such a crime.
Jeff Yaworski, a senior CSIS official, told a Senate committee Monday that CSIS and the RCMP share the work of monitoring suspected threats to public safety, but that CSIS hands off to the RCMP once an investigation becomes a criminal probe.
CSIS will continue to keep tabs on those it deems a possible threat, but Yaworski told senators that the agency is unable to monitor all possibly dangerous individuals “all the time” and must prioritize.
Yaworski said some 80 individuals who travelled abroad to participate in the activities of terrorist groups and had since returned to Canada were not continually monitored by CSIS due to limited resources.
CSIS has said 130-145 Canadians travelled abroad to join terrorist activity — whether to fight, to fundraise, to assist in social media or Facebook propaganda campaigns, or to go to jihadist training schools. The 80 who have returned represent potential risks, as do others who are drawn in and become radicalized by Islamic State’s effective jihadist propaganda machine.
New details also emerged Monday of how deeply engaged Canadians are with Islamic State.
Yaworski said CSIS is aware of at least 50 Canadians involved with terrorist-related activities with Islamic State and other extremist groups in the region. “Of these individuals we are aware of approximately 30 in Syria alone with the remainder located in Iraq, Turkey and associated border regions.”
He said CSIS “remains concerned” about the threat posed by individual returnees who have “engaged with in threat-related activities abroad, whether with ISIL (Islamic State) or other groups like Jabat al Nusra in Syria.
“While such individuals’ experience and determination vary widely, it only takes one individual or a small group of individuals to cause great harm.
“There’s nothing more that we can do with the budget that we have except to prioritize internally as effectively as we can and I think we’re doing that. Our success rate has been quite good . . . I’d be foolhardy to say we’ve got all the bases covered. We do what we can with the budget that we have.”
- With files from Bruce Campion-Smith