By Alex Wilner, Zurich
Since August 2010, five Canadian men have been arrested on charges of facilitating homegrown and international terrorism.
Hiva Alizadeh, Khurram Sher, and Misbahuddin Ahme were arrested in Ontario late last August. They stand accused of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan and of plotting attacks in Canada. In January 2011, Sayfildin Tahir-Sharif was arrested in Edmonton on charges of providing material support to terrorists conducting suicide attacks in Iraq.
And earlier this week, Mohamed Hersi was escorted off his Egypt-bound plane at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. The twenty-five-year-old is accused of planning to join al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked jihadi organization active in Somalia and credited with dozens of attacks, including monstrous suicide attacks. Al Shabaab was proscribed by the Canadian government last year, making it illegal for Canadians to finance or support its efforts.
Some commentators are marking Hersi’s arrest as “a new kind” of terrorism case for Canada. After all, he was pulled off a plane allegedly on his way to join a foreign terrorist organization. For now, it doesn’t appear as though he posed a direct threat to Canadians.
He wasn’t constructing detonators in his basement, like Ottawa-native Mohammad Khawaja was. He wasn’t collecting bomb materials, like the Toronto 18 were. He didn’t acquire any firearms for use in terrorist attacks, as Toronto 18-member Ali Dirie did. And he wasn’t even disseminating propaganda on al Qaeda’s behalf, like Quebecer Said Namouh was. Instead, Hersi stands accused of actively seeking to join an illegal organization based half-way around the world.
But Hersi’s case is indeed deeply troubling. He isn’t the first Canadian who has sought to join a foreign terrorist organization; he’s just the first to get caught.
Since 9/11, dozens of other Canadians have facilitated terrorism overseas. Canadian Mohammed Jabarah is currently serving a US prison sentence for plotting an al Qaeda-sponsored attack on the American Embassy in Singapore. His brother, Abdel, died in a 2003 firefight with Saudi Arabian security officers battling al Qaeda’s local franchise. Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian currently on trial in the US, is charged with facilitating the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks in India. The “Somali Six” haven’t been spotted since they disappeared from Toronto in 2009, apparently on their way to join al Shabaab. Canadian Mohamed Warsame recently pled guilty before a US court to providing support to al Qaeda. And just two weeks ago, the RCMP issued arrest warrants for Manitobans Maiwand Yar and Ferid Ahmed Imam, accused of having joined the Taliban in Afghanistan sometime in 2007/8.
These individuals join another fourteen Canadians who have been found guilty – as of March 2011 – of terrorism offences under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act.
Like it or not, Canadians are self-radicalizing and facilitating terrorism overseas and at home. Despite having been born, raised, and educated in Canada, these would-be terrorists are radicalizing in our cities, are establishing networks with like-minded criminals, and actively seeking ways to participate in acts of terrorism. Hersi is just the latest case.