ABC News – Suspected Canadian Terror Cell Shows How Terrorists Don't Just Come from Al Qaeda
By Pierre Thomas —
After the weekend arrests of 17 suspected terrorists in Canada, the FBI is working closely with Canadian police to find out more details about the alleged plot and believes the threat of homegrown terrorists is very real and growing.
Officials say the men being held by the Canadian police do not fit the profile of terrorists. The suspects include a school bus driver, a graduate student, and a high school basketball player. Five of them are under 18. The 12 adults were sent to a high-security prison outside Toronto while the five youths were dispatched to area jails. They all are expected to face charges in court on Tuesday.
“These are people from diverse backgrounds and ages. Inspired by terrorist ideology, operating within their own network,” said Stockwell Day, Canada's public safety minister.
According to Canadian police, the suspects were planning to blow up targets in Ontario, the political and economic heart of Canada.
Security analysts say a new breed of terrorist is inspired by al Qaeda but is not under the direct control of Osama bin Laden.
“This is the most vexing problem that law enforcement and domestic intelligence agencies have to face right now,” said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI counterterrorism official and an ABC News consultant.
Flying Under the Radar
ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism czar, said the Canadian sting operation showed that people flying under the international radar, whose names are not on terror watch lists, were getting together to create real threats.
“They can get the material they need to make the bombs easily by going to hardware stores and farm supply stores,” said Clarke. “It's what we call leaderless terrorism, spontaneous terrorism, not connected directly to al Qaeda but they still are generated by getting their information on the Internet from this network of Qaeda-like, Qaeda-related Web sites. They're not doing this for the h– of it. They're doing it because they have a perception that the West, including Canada is anti-Islamic.”
The arrests in Canada came as the Department of Homeland Security announced it was slashing counterterrorist funding for the two cities targeted in the Sept. 11 attacks, New York and Washington, D.C.
New York's funding is dropping from $207 million to $124 million, and Washington, D.C.'s funding is dropping from $77 million to $46 million.
“It's another example, among many, that Homeland Security doesn't understand the nature of the problem,” Clarke said. “They were told by a lot of critics they had to give out funds based on the threat. They reluctantly agreed and then they came up with a threat termination formula that they applied mechanically and rather stupidly. New York they said, for example, had few significant national landmarks. It's just a joke. Of the two cities that have been targeted and attacked by Qaeda it's always been New York and Washington.”
U.S.-Canada Border at Risk
The other concern the terror arrests in Canada raises is the vulnerability of the U.S.-Canada border. Clarke said that it was much less patrolled than the Mexican border, and that there were spots where people could simply walk across.
“We and the Canadians have accepted the notion that we cannot put up a fence,” he said. “We have to work together to make sure we find the terrorists whether they're in the United States or Canada. So we coordinate with Canada on who they let into their country. And we coordinate with them on ways to find terrorist groups in Canada. We have to assume the United States and Canada are borderless and we coordinate who we let into each country and we share information about suspects in each others country.”
A new generation of homegrown terrorists was responsible for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain, and London.
Clarke said homegrown terrorists were just as dangerous as the terrorists trained in camps in Afghanistan. There are also reports, Clarke noted, that British anti-terrorist police are hunting for a “dirty” chemical bomb made by a suspected homegrown terrorist.
“They conducted a raid Friday based on a tip and didn't find the bomb on site but apparently … they found indications that a bomb had been made,” Clarke said. “They therefore concluded the bomb may still be at large, and it appears to be the type that would throw out a lethal chemical agent.”
U.S.-Canada Ties Between Suspects?
In Canada, police had been monitoring the alleged cell for months, according to a Toronto newspaper. In a sting, the police provided the group with bomb components and three tons of ammonium nitrate, far more than what was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City attack that left 168 people dead.
At any given time, the FBI is investigating and tracking dozens of suspected Islamic radicals living in the United States. The FBI is concerned that the Canadian suspects had ties to two men arrested in Georgia last spring for allegedly gathering information about Washington, D.C., oil refineries and military installations.
These suspects, Clarke said, did not have the same access to information the group in Canada had.
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