Civil war in Syria is becoming a threat to Canada: Stewart Bell, June 13, 2013, National Post
TORONTO — Syria is becoming a “major theatre of operations” for terrorists from around the world and “reinvigorating” the extremist cause, according to the 2013 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.
Released on Thursday by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, the report said al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates remained Canada’s top threat but singled out Syria as an emerging problem.
“Canada is concerned that the civil war is turning Syria into a hub for terrorist activities that will heighten the terrorist threat to Canada, Canadians and Canadian interests,” said the 30-page report, the first of its kind.
“Individuals have travelled to Syria from around the world – including from Canada – to fight the Syrian government. Some of these foreign fighters are suspected of joining local extremist groups. As a result, some experienced extremists from other conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan are now operating in Syria.”
It said a prolonged conflict could turn Syrian into a “training ground” for terrorists who could then “return to their home countries, including Canada, to attempt to radicalize others or conduct terrorist attacks.”
Dozens of Canadians have travelled to Syria to participate in the fighting since it erupted two years ago, mostly on the side of rebel forces but also in armed factions loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad. Several have been reported killed.
The report reflects the concern shared by Canada’s allies that al-Qaeda, which was thought to be near collapse following the death of Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring, has found new life by making Syria the focus of its activities.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is directing the most extreme factions in Syria, notably the Al-Nusrah Front, which has drawn in veteran foreign terrorists and introduced terrorist tactics such as suicide bombings to the civil war.
Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is fighting alongside Assad’s forces. The report accused Assad’s regime of supporting terrorist violence in Lebanon and Turkey. “Canada is also concerned that Syria’s conventional and chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups.”
Iran is singled out in the report for providing state-sponsorship to terrorists active in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. It said Tehran had given “logistical support” to Hamas during the November 2012 conflict with Israel.
The threat report is the first to be released since the government unveiled a new counter-terrorism strategy last year that promised an annual update “to inform Canadians of the evolving domestic and international threat environment.”
Its release follows the Boston Marathon bombings and a string of attacks attributed to Canadian terrorists in Algeria, Bulgaria and Somalia. On April 22, the RCMP arrested two men in Toronto and Montreal over an alleged al-Qaeda-link plot to derail a VIA Rail passenger train.
Canada is also concerned that terrorists operating in the Sahel could conduct further attacks in Africa, including attacking Canadian interests in the region, or traveling further abroad to conduct terrorist activities
“Canadian authorities continued to investigate a range of potential domestic terrorist threats. The majority of these involved individuals influenced by the ideology of al-Qaida,” said the report, which mentioned the arrests over the train plot as an example.
Even 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain Canada’s leading terrorist threat, it said. While al-Qaeda, now led by Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri, was described as “weakened” and “in decline,” it continues to provide strategic guidance to its network of regional affiliates.
Africa, in particular, has experienced an expansion of al-Qaeda-linked extremism, with violence in Nigeria and northern Mali, the report said. “The conflict in the Sahel risks creating a larger regional hub for terrorism. Fighters from Al-Shabaab [in Somalia] and Boko Haram [in Nigeria] have travelled to Mali to fight alongside al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
“Canada is concerned that the conflict is attracting individuals from other countries to the region, including two Canadian citizens involved in the Algeria attack. Canada is also concerned that terrorists operating in the Sahel could conduct further attacks in Africa, including attacking Canadian interests in the region, or traveling further abroad to conduct terrorist activities.”
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