July 29, 2011 – Recently, media coverage has been focusing on the recruitment of Somali-Canadians by the terror group al-Shabab, but MLI has been at the forefront of this issue. Alex Wilner, MLI fellow and senior researcher at the Centre for Securities Studies in Zurich, has addressed the issues raised by al-Shabab and he has posed a number of positive and thoughtful recommendations on the subject.
Last year, the Canadian government added al-Shabab, an Islamist terrorist organization responsible for conducting dozens of attacks in the Horn of Africa, to its list of banned terrorist organizations. According to Wilner in a March 2010 op-ed in the National Post:
By making it a crime to join or assist the organization, we’ve made it harder for Canadians to easily support its efforts. We also subject the group’s assets to seizure, give security officials a free hand to track recruiters, realign Canadian policy with those of our allies and signal our continued interest in combating terrorism. Most importantly, by outlawing al Shabaab we help Somalia’s government survive another day.
Despite these successes, flaws continue to hamper the manner in which Canada proscribes groups.
First, our list must reflect global trends. The murky world of international terrorism evolves rapidly. Before 2007, nobody had heard of al-Shabab; today it is an al Qaeda ally. We need to streamline the blacklisting process to ensure that changes in terrorism threats are reflected in changes in policy. Our terrorist list should be a preventive tool. That it took Ottawa years to ban al-Shabab, despite its role in global terrorism and notwithstanding our allies’ earlier banning of the group, suggests we were behind the curve on this one.
Second, other groups known to facilitate terrorism are missing from Canada’s list. With respect to the checks and balances involved in banning organizations, our list needs some serious updating. Currently, 42 groups are banned. While al Qaeda is listed, its franchises in Iraq, the Islamic Maghreb and Yemen are not. The Taliban is also missing, though it is singled out as an ally of other blacklisted groups, like Hezb-eIslami Gulbuddin, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Does this mean supporting the Taliban is only partially illegal? Likewise, groups that have effectively been eliminated clutter the list. For instance, Aum Shinrikyo and Abu Nidal are both defunct organizations. Neither has been active for decades but both remain listed. Steps should be taken to ensure Canada’s list is reflective of actual and emerging threats.
Finally, we should use the list strategically. Banning a group punishes it for facilitating terrorism and restricts its capabilities. What is rarely explored is the effect of taking groups off the list. There might be room to encourage the rejection of violence by promising to remove groups from the list if and when they turn their backs on terrorism. As David Romano explains, “if no amount of sincere change in tactics can get a group off international terrorist lists … they’ll have less incentive to eschew terrorism” in the long-term. The idea is to go beyond using the list only to punish; it should be used to reward behaviour that is in Canada’s interests.
Banning al-Shabab was a solid start. But there is a great deal more to be done.
Further to these comments, Wilner also said in a March 2010 blog post that “what we need to do is assist the African Union, the United Nations, and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government to find permanent solutions to stemming al-Shabab’s regional popularity and military capability.”
For more background information on the subject, read the following blog posts: