The RCMP’s senior counterterrorism officer has singled out radical preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki as a common thread among young Canadian extremists. Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said Awlaki, a Yemeni-American terrorist leader, had been popping up during investigations of “the individuals that are of concern to us.”
The RCMP has been investigating radicalized Canadians who have travelled to such countries as Somalia and Pakistan for terrorist training. The move followed similar measures enacted by the United States and the United Nations Security Council, which placed Awlaki on its list of individuals associated with al-Qaeda. From members of the Toronto 18 to the Somali-Canadians in Al-Shabab, many of those involved in terrorist groups share a fascination with Awlaki, who has been in hiding somewhere in Yemen since 2007.
The final chapter in the story of the Toronto 18 terror cell closed last week with convictions, but experts warn there is no end to the threat of homegrown religious extremism among Muslim youth. Community members and security experts agree that youth are being radicalized in their own homes by tapping into an online jihadi cyberworld and also behind closed doors of private prayer rooms where firebrand religious ideologues go unchallenged. And increasingly, they are travelling overseas to countries such as Somalia and Pakistan to take up arms and fight jihad.
The arrests four years ago of what became known as the Toronto 18 woke up a country that had appeared immune to the kind of attacks that had terrorized cities such as New York and London. Evidence emerged of plots to storm Parliament Hill, behead the prime minister and blow up truck bombs in downtown Toronto.
The final two accused, Asad Ansari, 25, of Mississauga, and Steven Chand, 29, of Scarborough, were found guilty by a Brampton jury of participating in a terrorist group. It was the first time a Canadian jury has ruled on a terrorism case since the introduction of anti-terrorism legislation in 2001, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks.