Does al-Qaeda have a network in Canada?

Militant Islamist group remains an inspiration to many would-be extremists



Source: CBC News(Andre Mayer)

Security experts say a thwarted plot to derail a passenger train between Toronto and New York is proof of the lingering influence of al-Qaeda in Canada.

“I would say its influence now is as great or greater than it’s ever been, though more in an indirect sense,” says Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

Dawson says that one of the achievements of the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks was inspiring like-minded organizations and setting “an example to all these groups around the world on how to reach out and communicate” to would-be extremists.

Part of its indirect influence has been to inspire “self-appointed jihadis” who take it upon themselves to seek out people willing to carry out attacks, and then pass these individuals up the line for further training by someone else.

The alleged train attack plot “appears to be a manifestation of what [Osama] bin Laden advised the world some years ago — namely, that there are a handful of countries that he had wanted struck,” said David Harris, an Ottawa-based lawyer and director of Insignis Strategic Research.

“Canada was among them, and Canada remains the only one of the lot yet to be hit on the scale that al-Qaeda has desired,” he added.

On Monday, RCMP charged Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and “conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.”

U.S. law enforcement and national security sources told Reuters that these individuals were targeting a rail line between Toronto and New York.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the two accused were getting “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda elements in Iran.

The evolution of al-Qaeda

Since the details of the plot were revealed on Monday, many commentators have remarked on how unusual it is that al-Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim organization formed by Osama bin Laden, would have a presence in Iran, a country made up largely of Shia Muslims.

Canadian security expert Wesley Wark says the notion of al-Qaeda as a centralized command structure that authorizes and carries out attacks in Western countries is “a thing of the past.”

He says that even before bin Laden’s death in 2011, the group had splintered off into localized factions, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that were more focused on insurgencies in countries such as Mali or Yemen.

“From my perspective, I don’t think al-Qaeda affiliates are likely to target Canada. I think their operations will be primarily on regional environments,” says Wark.

What’s fuelling prospective Muslim radicals in Canada, he says, is the “al-Qaeda narrative” — namely, the legacy and inspiration of bin Laden.

In 2004, Momin Khawaja became the first Canadian charged under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act.

In 2004, Momin Khawaja became the first Canadian charged under Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act.(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Wark says this narrative had a great influence on the Toronto 18, a group that attempted to create an al-Qaeda-type cell in Toronto and carry out attacks on Canadian landmarks; as well as on Mohmin Khawaja, the Canadian-born computer programmer who was convicted in 2008 of financing and facilitating terrorist activities in London.

‘Self-appointed jihadis’

Dawson, who is based in the department of sociology and legal studies at the University of Waterloo, has looked at case studies of extremists and heard from many experts in the field of radicalization.

He says that in the absence of a top-down recruitment drive, the self-appointed jihadis inspired by al-Qaeda often become “middlemen,” taking it upon themselves to seek out people willing to carry out attacks.

These middlemen “are pretty adept at using the internet, they’ve had conversations in chat forums and they become sort of entrepreneurs,” says Dawson.

“They’re the ones that get in contact with younger people. Conversations are had, and they discover whether they’re dealing with a young person somewhere and whether their commitment [to the cause] is sincere. ”

Once the middleman is convinced the recruit is serious, Dawson says it could lead to a “referral” to a more senior operative who could provide the young radical with training and guidance.

The radicalization problem

Jabeur Fathally, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, believes this country’s experiences with radicalization can be partly attributed to the fallout of the Arab Spring, as well as Canada’s generous immigration policies.

Under such former authoritarian leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, for example, people that these regimes deemed radical Muslims were often persecuted and denied passports.

But since the overthrow of such strongmen, many Islamist parties have come to power in the Middle East, and have encouraged many of their previously persecuted citizens to study, work or otherwise do business in immigrant-friendly countries such as Canada.

While not all of them are radicals, Fathally says that at least some have sympathies with more hardline, Islamist thought.

“These people can fly easily, they can go to Turkey, they can move easily to Europe, and they can come easily to Canada,” says Fathally.

However, despite the recent media coverage of al-Qaeda-inspired plots in Canada, Wark doesn’t believe that these individuals pose the same existential threat that bin Laden’s group did in its heyday.

“I think they are a lesser threat than an organized, professional, trained network of the kind that al-Qaeda once was,” he says.

“It’s a challenge to uncover them, but the danger that they present is of a smaller degree.”



Egypt’s Coptic Christians must be protected from sectarian violence



A rise in tensions between religious communities in the town of Wasta, about one hundred kilometres south of Cairo, in recent weeks highlights the failure of the Egyptian authorities to protect Egypt’s Coptic Christians, the largest religious minority in the country.

Tensions were sparked in February when a local Muslim young woman was reported “missing” and members of her family and local Salafis – Sunni Muslims who advocate a return to what they consider to be Islam’s fundamental principles as practiced by the first Muslims – blamed the Mar-Girgis Church, claiming they had influenced the woman to convert to Christianity – an allegation the Church denies.

People in the town went out on the streets calling for the return of the woman or the departure of the Coptic Christian community from Wasta.

In some of the protests, shouts of “let the Christian die from fear”, “today your sister, tomorrow your wife” and “she returns or they (Coptic Christians) leave” were heard.

Local residents told Amnesty International that leaflets are being distributed at the market, the public transport rank, and outside stores owned by Christians highlighting Muslims’ religious duty to stand-up against the woman’s alleged disappearance.

Discrimination and violence
According to local residents, violence escalated further between 19 and 25 March, when groups of men believed to be Salafis and their supporters forced all Christian stores and other businesses to close. They then patrolled the area to ensure they stayed shut and became violent with anyone who resisted.

A restaurant owner told Amnesty International that on 20 March, at around 6pm, some 15 men carrying sticks entered his restaurant whilst clients were inside, ordering its closure. Larger groups of men waited outside, while others entered other Christian businesses on the street also ordering they shut.

Local residents said security forces failed to intervene and that, in most cases, police stations refused to register complaints. One resident told Amnesty International that the head of the Security Directorate and the head of the General Security Investigations told him that filing complaints would only serve to ignite tensions further, advising him to pursue the reconciliation route.

As days progressed, the situation deteriorated.

On 25 March, after evening prayers, a large group of Muslim men walked to the Mar-Girgis Church and threw stones and Molotov cocktails inside the building. Some of the church employees who were there at the time managed to contain the fire.

Members of the security forces arrived at the scene shortly after and managed to halt the violence.

That night, the car of a local priest Father Shenouda Sabry was set on fire while parked outside his home. Other cars parked near-by were left untouched.

However, according to information available, no arrests have been made and no investigation established to find out who was responsible.

“Coptic Christians across Egypt face discrimination in law and practice and have been victims of regular sectarian attacks while authorities systematically look the other way,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Later on 25 March, Coptic Christian and Muslim elders held a “reconciliation meeting”.

It was agreed that businesses run by Coptic Christians could reopen save Fridays.

However, Coptic Christians in Wasta were also warned that if the “missing” woman did not return by 24 April, they will face dire consequences.

A pattern of discrimination
Human rights organizations including Amnesty International have, over time, documented a pattern of discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Under Hosni Mubarak, at least 15 major attacks on Copts were documented and the situation didn’t improve under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled the country between the downfall of Hosni Mubarak and the election of President Mohamed Morsi.

In 2013, Coptic Christian activists reported at least four attacks on Churches or affiliated buildings in addition to Wasta, taking place in the Governorates of Aswan, Beni Suef, Cairo, and Fayoum.

The authorities’ response to the violence has been poor, at best.

They have often favoured “reconciliation” over the prosecution of offenders as a way to address sectarian violence.

In addition, both Hosni Mubarak and the SCAF failed to end discriminatory practices preventing Copts from building or restoring houses of worship.

Churches have been closed or destroyed because the authorities alleged that the communities did not have the correct permissions to build or renovate. Presidential Decree 291/2005 makes repair or expansion of Christian churches subject to a permit from the regional governor. In some cases, this has reportedly been used by the local authorities to delay or impede the construction or repair of churches.

“It is high time for the authorities to take sectarian violence and threats seriously. The Egyptian authorities are responsible for ensuring the protection of people, their homes and livelihoods. Time and time again, President Morsi claimed to be President of all Egyptians. Now, he needs to take action to ensure that sectarian violence is prevented and when it occurs it is properly investigated, and those responsible face justice,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“By not prosecuting those responsible for sectarian violence, the Egyptian authorities are signalling Coptic Christians can be attacked with impunity”.

Egypt is a state party to a number of treaties which prohibit any forms of discrimination based on the grounds of religion including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

President Morsi Smuggling Al-Qaeda Leader Zawahiri to Egypt?


Source: Raymond Ibrahim)

According to a new report from the Arabic-language website Misr al-Gidida (New Egypt), during Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi’s recent visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, he secretly met with Ayman Zawahiri, the leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, and promised to smuggle the Egyptian-born jihadi back home.  The Arabic report cites a Pakistani source saying that the meeting was clandestinely arranged, away from the delegation accompanying Morsi, and “facilitated by elements of Pakistani intelligence [ISI] and influential members of the international organization, the Muslim brotherhood” [all quotes translated from Arabic by author].

Morsi himself is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; Zawahiri is a former member who grew impatient with the Brotherhood’s tactics of non-violent patience and perseverance, eventually quitting the organization and joining the jihad, becoming its current leader.  (See “Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip through Time” for an expose on Zawahiri and his decades-long connections to Egypt, the Salafis, and the Muslim Brotherhood.)

The Pakistani source adds that “the meeting lasted 45 minutes, during which Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi promised to make preparations for Ayman Zawahiri to return soon to Egypt, indicating that some Muslim Brotherhood members would handle the operation, by first smuggling the al-Qaeda leader to a Gulf nation, likely Qatar, and then easily transferring him to Egypt—on condition that Zawahiri disappear lest he embarrass Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood with its American ally, whose security and intelligence agencies consider Zawahiri most wanted.”

Although this report cannot be independently verified, any number of indicators support its veracity.  Among other things, the ever-vocal Salafi faction of Egypt, which all but venerates al-Qaeda, have been incessantly calling for Egypt’s native son Zawahiri—the “hero” who gave America a bloody nose via the strikes of 9/11—to return.  Aboud al-Zomor, for instance, the Egyptian jihadi who was implicated for the assassination of Sadat but released after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and who is now a leading member of the new Egyptian parliament—has called for the return of Zawahiri to Egypt, “with his head held high and in safety.”

Muslim Brotherhood leader President Morsi himself—who was also imprisoned and released during the “Arab Spring”—has already released any number of other jihadis, including some who were on death row in Egypt for the deaths and terrorism they committed.  He is also trying to release the “Blind Sheikh”—an early mentor turned competitor of Zawahiri—from the U.S where he is currently serving a life sentence for his connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

The report further suggests that Zawahiri will likely disappear in the increasingly lawless Sinai, where al-Qaeda is already active under the leadership of Zawahiri’s brother, Muhammad Zawahiri—another jihadi who was imprisoned under Mubarak only to be released under Morsi.  Interestingly, when asked in a recent interview with CNN if he is in touch with his al-Qaeda leader brother, Muhammad only smiled and responded, “of course not.” In retrospect, it appears the smile was based on the sheer naivety of the question.