The challenge on when to call a serious act of violence terrorism

Sometimes calling an act of serious violence terrorism is really easy.  Like when Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum narrowly escaped a deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport as he returned home from more than a year in exile in Turkey the other day (Taliban or Islamic State).  Or when Somalia’s al Shabaab says “We first attacked the base with a suicide car bomb and then stormed. We killed 27 soldiers and took the base.”  Or when a probable Boko Haram early-morning suicide bomber killed 7 worshippers at a mosque in Maiduguri.  These are all no-brainers.

So what we do with the shootings Sunday evening in Toronto?  In a word: it is far from clear.

What we do know is that Faisal Hussain suffered from serious mental illness over a period of many years.  Whether that was the primary reason for his spree is as yet unknown but there could very well be a connection.

We also know that he was ‘known’ to Toronto police, but that connection seems to be tied to the aforementioned mental health issues and not to terrorism, at least as far as we know (so far).  Quite the opposite: TPS said there was  ‘no evidence’ he was tied to terrorism, let alone confirmation that he ‘liked’ Islamic State (IS) online, as reported by Joe Warmington in the Toronto Sun yesterday.

Complicating all this is a claim today that Hussain was a ‘soldier’ of IS.  So, was he?

Not necessarily.

IS is in a bit of a pickle now.  The self-styled ‘Caliphate’ is no more. Thousands of the terrorist group’s fighters are dead.  Hundreds have been captured, tried and will be executed by the Iraqis.  This is not to imply that the group is dead, as some have said.  They still carry out attacks in the region on a daily basis and their affiliates are active around the world.  But they are not what they were in 2014.

Why then would they claim the Danforth shootings?  Because they can.  The claim makes them look big.  It tells the world ‘Hey!  We are still here and we can kill you wherever you are.  Be afraid.  Be very, very afraid!’.  None on this means Hussain was IS, or recruited by IS or inspired by IS or anything.  Besides, terrorist groups rarely recruit those with serious mental illness for reasons of unreliability.

In the end, it may be learned that Hussain visited an IS Web site or liked the group or was even in contact with an IS member or sympathiser online.  We will have to wait to find out.  Even then it is unclear what that means.

In the meantime be patient.  And don’t take IS claims at face value (after all they also claimed the Las Vegas mass shooter and I am pretty sure he was NOT IS).  Talk is cheap.  I can maintain that I am a pretty good hockey goalie but seeing me on the ice between the pipes is painful, trust me.

As the Romans once said ‘acta non verba’.  Good advice that.

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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