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Who are the terrorists?


January 9, 2012
By Steven Rocke

After the events of 9/11 many people throughout the world were asking the same question, “Who are these people?” Even law enforcement and security forces who hadn’t been involved with national security or counterterrorism were asking this question. 

To help answer it, we need to first ask another question, “What is terrorism?”

If you asked fifty different terrorism specialists to define this term you would probably get fifty different answers! But hopefully there would be similar components. For the purposes of this article, I will use the definition that I am most comfortable with; < terrorism is the use of force or violence (or threats of violence) by a group or individual to effect a result and it is based on ideological goals or reasoning. >

For me, the most important component is the violence for an ideological goal. Violence or threats are often used by individuals or groups to get a desired result but in law enforcement it is usually seen in the criminal context of extortion or intimidation. These acts are usually carried out for financial goals or personal vendetta which places them firmly in the criminal realm. Criminal organizations often work on a cost/benefit basis much like a business model where they seek to achieve a profit from their actions. Terrorist groups do not base their attacks on profit margins but rather on the ability to advance their ideological goals.

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In Canada, the definition of terrorism can be found in Section 83.01 of the Criminal Code. This section provides all the necessary elements of various offences and also defines the facts in issue necessary to establish a Prima Facia case in Court. However, the average investigator not tasked with National Security should not be considering laying charges and should leave that for agencies specifically tasked with those duties. A good front line officer or investigator should however be aware of who the terrorists are so that if he or she comes across individuals or circumstances that might indicate a terrorist nexus, these incidents can be reported immediately to the appropriate agencies so that a more in-depth investigation can be undertaken.

There are currently forty-four listed terrorist entities in Canada according to the Public Safety Canada website. This list does not contain all terrorist groups and has been established according to specific criteria relating to enforcement strategies. It is important to remember that any individual or group who promotes violence for ideological purposes should be investigated as a potential terrorist.

I place terrorists or groups into one of two categories; (1) International terrorists or (2) Domestic terrorists. This differentiation is based on two factors; where they receive their inspiration and where they get their logistical support. 

A terrorist group operating within the borders of Canada would be considered international terrorists if they receive their inspiration and support from out of country even if it is through internet or videos. These two groups could be further divided into issue specific groups such as animal rights, anti-abortionists or the many other issue specific type groups that can be considered terrorist. Race or ethnicity are not a factor in determining whether a person is a terrorist or not. 

I personally think that when people believe that being a member of a certain religious group or ethnic group increases the likelihood of involvement in terrorism those people are naïve and uneducated in their understanding. However, it is true that many terrorist groups have evolved as a result of regional conflicts so in those cases race or geographic origin may indicate an association to a specific group, but only if they are involved that type of activity to begin with. 

Clothing is also not usually an indicator but usually relates to tribal or cultural affiliations. Unlike OMG groups who proudly sport group colors or 1% patches to boast of their memberships in these groups, terrorists usually function in a covert manner. A belief in differing ideologies is in itself not an indicator of terrorism, it is only when the individual or group are prepared to use or advocate the use of threats or violence to achieve their objectives do these parties become of concern to law enforcement. All of this gives us cause to remember that we live in a multicultural democratic society which welcomes differing beliefs provided that we all adhere to a non-violent approach to those beliefs and a tolerance for others.

Earlier, I indicated that terrorist groups carry out their actions without consideration for profit. It is true however that Terrorist groups do require money and funding to carry out their activities. Quite often that funding is obtained through the commission of other offences such as fraud, theft and sales of illicit drugs. When investigating any offences or criminal activities, investigators should always be on the alert for statements made by the involved parties, and/or the presence of any literature or other similar items which would lead one to believe that the person(s) may be active in this type of ideological organization. If you believe this to be the case, the time should be taken immediately to carefully note your observations, document them and forward them to the appropriate agency (R.C.M.P. or C.S.I.S or an integrated unit) through whatever predetermined procedures your agency uses.

Although I have not spoken about specific groups, I have always held the belief that it is helpful but not imperative to be able to identify or label a specific group that the incident or activity is associated with but rather to determine that the activity is of a terrorist nature.

Always remember to investigate any incident, individual or activity as you always would following procedure and best practices. And remember it is not the individual or group that you should be most concerned with but rather what they are doing and why they are doing it!