Apr 27 2014
Canadians at risk of joining foreign terrorist groups in Syria and elsewhere are now being tracked under a program led by the RCMP, a senior counter-terrorism officer has revealed in an interview.
The program has brought together police and federal agencies to identify “high-risk travellers” and disrupt their plans using methods such as denying them passports, Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said.
The no-fly list, immigration proceedings and criminal charges are also among the tools available to prevent radicalized youths from leaving for conflict zones like Syria, Somalia and North Africa, he said.
The head of national security investigations at the RCMP, Assistant Commissioner Malizia disclosed the existence of the High Risk Traveller Case Management system in an interview with the National Post.
He also acknowledged that in cases where police lacked sufficient evidence to lay criminal charges, government officials were turning to “mitigation” tactics to thwart would-be terrorists.
“Charges, that’s what we’re aiming for. But if we can do a disruption, we will. We certainly won’t shy away from that,” he said. “I cannot think of, in the CT [counter-terrorism] realm, a higher priority for us. We are absolutely totally focused on each high-risk traveller.”
Officials are using the term “high-risk traveler” because not all those being tracked are leaving Canada explicitly to take up arms. Some are seeking religious education, but because they are heading to regions where they are vulnerable to recruitment, they are also considered at risk.
Like its Western allies, Canada has been struggling to deal with a growing number of radicalized men in their 20s who want to travel to Syria to join extremist groups aligned with Al-Qaeda.
About 130 Canadians are currently serving in overseas extremist factions, including about 30 in Syria alone, according to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Another 80 have returned to Canada either because they were injured, disillusioned or retired.
The problem was underscored last January when two men from London, Ont., took part in an attack at a gas plant in Algeria that left 39 foreign workers dead. Officials are also concerned that veterans of foreign conflicts could return to Canada to stage attacks — a scenario that Al-Qaeda encourages.
Last week, British police said they were increasingly worried about the number of young men intending to fight in Syria, and had been urging women to report them. Forty people were arrested in the United Kingdom on charges related to Syria in the first three months of 2014.
There have been no charges in Canada related to the Syrian conflict, but Assistant Commissioner Malizia said the case management system had been dealing with the problem through methods other than arrests.
The tactics used to disrupt extremists varied depending on whether they were preparing to leave Canada, were already abroad or had returned after training or fighting, Assistant Commissioner Malizia said.
By working with other federal agencies, the RCMP was able to determine what “enforcement or mitigation action would be most appropriate depending on the circumstances, grounds and the threat,” he said.
“Amongst others, this could include the removal of a passport. If there is a threat to aviation it could involve a referral for the Specified Persons List led by Public Safety. And in cases where the subject of investigation is not Canadian, the cancellation of a visa.”
But the program may not be able to stop determined extremists. After serving a prison sentence for his role in the Toronto 18 terrorist group, Somali-Canadian Ali Dirie was still somehow able to travel to Syria, where he died last August.