Canadian police forces have been warned to be extra vigilant after the self-declared Islamic State militant group this weekend urged its followers to attack countries taking part in the bombing campaign in Iraq.
“Strike their police, security and intelligence members, as well as their treacherous agents,” states a speech purportedly by the group’s spokesperson and posted online Saturday. “Kill in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict.”
Canada, France, the United States and Australia are singled out as targets.
The group, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or by its Arabic name, Daesh, has threatened Canada before, but the threat level has increased after last week’s attacks in France. Amedy Coulibaly, one of the three gunmen, declared in a video posted Sunday that he was aligned with the Islamic State group.
“This new threat should be taken seriously,” states an internal RCMP notice obtained by the Toronto Star. “Because members of law enforcement are clearly mentioned by ISIS as priority targets, it is critical that an appropriate level of caution and vigilance be exercised when carrying out our duties.”
But how to be vigilant when the threat is so difficult to grasp?
With each detail that emerges about the three men who terrorized France comes a better understanding of their connections, travels, training and the intelligence gaps that allowed them, with their long history of militancy, to remain off the radar.
But the flood of information also makes it increasingly difficult to categorize these terrorists.
We want to affix labels to the terrorists: the lone wolf, the homegrown, those who receive training abroad, those recruited by radicals, those lured online.
We try to decipher if these attacks were directed by ISIS, or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which trained at least one of the Kouachi brothers who massacred the staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.
Perhaps it is both, which would mark the first time these groups have aligned. Perhaps neither, as the men may have had some past training but for the last few years acted alone.
The problem is, and perhaps there is no better example than those who attacked France, most terrorists don’t fit into tidy boxes.
This is no longer, if it ever was, about fighting one group with a straightforward chain of command. It is about an ideology that, while difficult for most of us to fathom, is spreading among a small group of the disenfranchised.
Do categories matter? No — only as we try to understand what could have driven these men to murder. But there is never just one factor.
When most people are scared, they crave simple, fast answers and strong leaders: George W. Bush with a bullhorn standing defiantly atop the smouldering remains of New York’s Twin Towers.
Savvy terrorist leaders adhering to Al Qaeda’s ideology want this, too. In fact, they count on it to fulfil their narrative that the West is at war with Islam. Consider the name of the Islamic State group’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq. Dabiq is a Syrian town about 10 kilometres from the Turkish border, where the militants believe an apocalyptic clash between Muslims and their enemies was predicted by the Prophet Muhammad.
This is why they would welcome French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ statement that France is at war against “radical Islam.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also spoke of war in his speech Thursday, saying jihadists left Canada with no option but to “face that head on and deal with it.”
More dangerous, as the past decade has shown, are policies that are quickly enacted, but result in long-lasting consequences.
According to reports, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and images of the torture by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison sent Chérif Kouachi on his path of militancy.
Sunday began the 14th year that prisoners have been held without trial at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There is a reason the Islamic State militants parade their Western prisoners in orange jumpsuits.
Canada is now at a higher level of risk because of our involvement in the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS. A separate debate can be had about the military action and its effectiveness, but to say it has not raised the risk is simply not true, as the RCMP’s warning to its officers makes clear.
There is no denying security forces are overwhelmed trying to prioritize their investigations. Consider that it takes about 24 intelligence agents, working in three shifts of eight, to keep someone under constant surveillance. We could double, perhaps triple their resources and still not prevent an attack.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who stormed Ottawa’s parliament, was a known name, but so far down on a list of threats that he barely warranted attention, security sources have told me.
Martin Couture-Rouleau, who ran down a Canadian soldier in a Quebec with his car two days earlier, had been identified by the RCMP but could not be stopped. As RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told a news conference: “Even if we had surveillance on Rouleau, in the parking lot, we probably would not have been in a position to have stopped his attack on those soldiers. That’s the kind of threat we’re having to deal with.”
Add to this the known roster of those who have been convicted of terrorism offences in the past or on watch lists, such as the Kouachi brothers.
The sad fact is there are bound to be future attacks and vigilance is warranted.
But this is not a war, not in the way defined by terrorists or politicians.
Not unless we let it be.