10-31-14 – Outrage in Ottawa

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—Canada has been given a reality jolt.  Twice within three days,  “lone wolf” terrorists have killed Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil; one outside Montreal and another at the symbolic National War Memorial in Ottawa.  The Ottawa incident also saw the lone gunmen rush into the Houses of Parliament, wildly firing shots in an attempt kill legislators. Fortunately he failed.

The  assailant, a recent convert to radical Islam, was shot and killed by the Parliament’s Ceremonial Sergeant at Arms,  Kevin Vickers, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  (RCMP).

The Toronto Star stated editorially, “The heart of Canada’s democracy has been invaded and violated.” 

“This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” warned Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a somber address to the nation. 

Stephen Harper vowed, “We will not be intimidated.  Canada will never be intimidated.”   

So once again Canadians are tragically reminded that, yes, it can happen here.  Even in such a seemly safe place as Ottawa, the staid Canadian capital city.  Though Canada has seen a  number of terrorist plots thwarted in recent years by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP),  only recently did the government ramp up its terror threat level.  

One pundit wrote in Toronto’s National Post, “Canadians simply do not take security seriously. It’s not on our radar.” 

Something was brewing.   Given Canada’s long running participation in the NATO mission  against Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan and especially since the parliament voted to send Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets and support units to help fight the Islamic State in Iraq, there’s been an almost pregnant pause.  When would something happen? 

Two days earlier another Canadian-born Muslim convert used his car to run down and kill a solider and injure another near Montreal.  Back in July two more local converts to Islam were arrested planning to bomb the British Columbia provincial assembly. 

The suspected terrorist Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, whose father was from Libya, had lived in Montreal and had a lengthy criminal past.  Most recently he was living in an Ottawa homeless shelter, ranting against Canada, and preparing to go to Syria as a foreign fighter. Yet officials added there was no specific evidence to link the radicalized Zehaf-Bibeau to Islamic State. 

Indeed the glaring reality remains that many Canadian converts to Islam, have been slipping into these foreign war zones, especially Iraq and Syria.   According to the Canadian Intelligence Security Service, over 130 people with Canadian connections are in the Mid-East.  A further 80 have returned, presumably radicalized and possibly time bombs waiting for their opportunity. Earlier this year a Calgary jihadi-wanabee was killed in Syria

So what has turned these people, mostly locally-born to hate their native land and more especially, are there certain radical mosques, or recruiters in Montreal’s large Middle Eastern community, or is it simply slick jihadi internet sites?   

“Terrorism remains  the leading threat to Canada’s national security,” was the recent conclusion of the Minister for Public Safety. 

The conservative Harper government’s firm support for American military coalition actions against the Islamic State (ISIS) has inflamed the hatred against Canada by radical jihadi groups and likely among “lone wolf” wannabes. 

Harper stated that Canada will continue to “fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with a hope of bringing their savagery to our shores. They will have no safe haven.”  

Yet, despite the Ottawa government’s tough stance, the fact remains that Canada has been gleefully ambivalent about the real risks faced from foreign militants; especially those who recruit jihadi foot soldiers in cities like Montreal and Toronto.  

The adage it can’t happen here has been painfully rebuffed by the attack on Parliament Hill.  What is more troubling is that both Canada and the USA have sadly not seen the end of this cycle of violence.  Yet just one day after the attack on Parliament, the legislature after tributes to the fallen soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, was back to business as usual.   Indeed that was the toughest message to the terrorists. 

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John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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