The nature of global terrorism has evolved. The arrest of a number of Canadians in Toronto in 2006 for allegedly planning to kill fellow citizens is but one case of a growing trend of homegrown terrorism. (As this paper goes to publication, the “Toronto 18” case continues to unfold. On September 25, 2008, an unnamed member of the group who was still a youth at the time of the arrests was found guilty under Canada’s anti-terrorism law.)
Consider that none of the young men rounded up in Ontario was a foreign national, had been specifically recruited by al-Qaeda, had acquired any training in a terrorist camp in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or elsewhere, or had been dispatched to attack Canada by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri (al-Qaeda’s deputy), or any other al-Qaeda leader. For all intents and purposes, the group was autonomous, self-generated, and independently trained. Worse, its members were Canadian, through and through.
While the threat of homegrown terrorism in Western states is not new, the rise of al-Qaeda- and jihadi inspired Muslim homegrown terrorism is. With a little encouragement, individuals predisposed to support al-Qaeda’s radical Islamic ideology form small yet intricate cells and networks. From there, it is a short step to the sort of “al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism” the Toronto Group allegedly sought. Moreover, Canadians are not alone. Since 2001, our friends and allies in Denmark, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe and Asia have been challenged by the same phenomenon.
Understanding how to combat homegrown terrorism will require an innovative, multifaceted, and coordinated strategy. This paper offers four such strategies.
First, the Canadian government should gain a better understanding of the particular pathways that lead ordinary Canadians to embrace and employ violence against fellow nationals. By appreciating what drives the radicalization process, Canadians will be in a better position to influence and impede its development.
Second, Canada should more readily monitor local elements that preach, incubate, and foster ideologies of hatred and violence. While self-radicalization is possible, an embrace of terrorism and violence is more often than not fortified by ideological or practical guidance from above. Community leaders who advocate and promote violence against Canadians should be deterred from doing so.
Third, Ottawa should consider using the Internet not only to uncover, track, and impede terrorist infrastructure and planning in Canada, but also to disseminate the rationales that underpin Canada’s defence and foreign policy. The Internet is not only a useful counterterrorism tool, but also an apparatus for contradicting extremist viewpoints while arming moderate ideological factions.
Finally, if and when a homegrown terrorist group or plot is uncovered, the Canadian government should use all of its facilities to disrupt and foil the threat. To do so effectively and expeditiously, Canada should retain a robust intelligence-gathering and policing capability and uphold the interagency and international cooperative relationships it will need to manage terrorist threats whenever and wherever they may arise.
The full report can be read here.