The Canadian military as a target for terrorism

I learned a long time ago not to jump to conclusions based on very little information (a cardinal sin in intelligence analysis).  Hence some of this post will be tenuous in nature.  I am writing of course on the attack at a Canadian Armed Forces recruiting centre in Toronto on March 14th in which a knife-wielding assailant attacked and wounded two members of the military before being subdued by others.  The attacker is in custody and little information has been forthcoming so far. A statement by Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders that his force had reached out to the RCMP, CSIS and the OPP in this matter is of interest, but not necessarily definitive, and as of the time of this post the case is only possibly linked to terrorism.  Although the concrete “evidence” pointing to violent extremism is very thin (the knife-wielder allegedly mentioned “Allah” after the attack), there is enough circumstantial information to suggest that a terror motive is indeed possible.

There has been a recent history of terrorist attacks on military personnel and installations in the West and the following list is only partial:

  • in November 2009, Major Nidal Hassan killed 13 fellow army members at Fort Hood, Texas
  • Carlos Bledsoe attacked a Marines recruiting centre in Arkansas in June 2009  killing one serviceman and wounding another
  • Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale killed Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, UK in May 2013, bragging about their exploits on camera before they were arrested.

And here in Canada, all of the foiled and successful Islamist extremism plots since 9/11 have targeted military symbols:

  • The Toronto 18 had chosen an military base in Ontario as one of their three targets for attack
  • In the Project SAMOSSA case in 2010, a repatriation ceremony at a military base was identified for attack
  • Chiheb Esseghaier, the convicted plotter of the 2013 VIA passenger train derailment scheme, mused about poisoning soldiers on a military base
  • John Nuttall, the convicted terrorist behind the 2013 BC Legislature plot, wanted to attack the naval base at Esquimault on Vancouver Island
  • Martin Couture Rouleau ran over two military officers in St-Jean-sur-Richilieu, Quebec on October 20, 2014, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent
  • Two days later, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo dead at the National War Memorial in Ottawa before storming Parliament

The question remains, then, why the focus on military targets?  The answer is not that difficult.  The narrative that groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State promote and drum into the heads of their followers is that Islam is under attack from its enemies.  In their view, Islam’s opponents include a whole raft of candidates: apostate Arab regimes, Shia Muslims, secularists and, perhaps most importantly, Western nations.  Islamist extremists believe that Western governments are at war with Islam and that they have sent their armies and air forces to kill Muslims.  In light of this, they see attacks on military personnel and symbols as retribution for a war they believe we started.

Furthermore, all six attacks in Canada to date, leaving aside yesterday’s incident for the time being, were planned to punish us for the deployment of our forces overseas in Muslim-majority countries: the first four over the Afghan mission and the last two over the anti-IS deployment in Iraq.

That, in a nutshell, is why we are seeing attacks on our military.  Those in uniform are seen as representatives of Islam’s enemies.  Every time we bomb a target or kill a Muslim (whether a terrorist or a civilian) we confirm their bias and justify, in their minds, the need for a counter-attack.

I will end this short piece with two quotes that I feel encapsulate the thinking behind attacks on our military, not to support their views, but to understand them.  This is the mentality we are dealing with:

  • Usama bin Laden (2002) “It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb.”
  • Abdul Qayyoum Jamal (Toronto 18 – 2005) (paraphrase) ” Canadian soldiers (are) raping Muslim women in Afghanistan.”

Expect more attacks in the future.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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