Inspired yet?

The multiple attacks today (June 26) have led to a burst of condemnation and outrage – as they should. The vast majority of people – Muslim and non-Muslim – have rightly protested against this barbarity.  And we will surely see more demonstrations in the days to come as more and more people are inspired to register their disgust.

A parallel debate has arisen over what these attacks mean.  Are they the beginning of a much bloodier phase of violence?  After all, the Islamic State has called for violence during the Islamic month of Ramadan (showing once again how “un-Islamic” the Islamic state is).

And IS has published claims for some of today’s massacres.  Hence, they ordered/directed/facilitated them, right?

Not so fast.

Which brings me to a recent statement by Canadian Prime Minister Harper.  In his response to a statement by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in which the latter said that if he were PM he would pull out of the airstrike campaign against IS (in which the Canadian Air Force is playing a role) and focus on training local armies to do the heavy lifting as well as on humanitarian works, the current PM said:

“… the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a group that… has executed and is planning attacks against Canada and Canadians.” (see story here)

I know that politics is a dirty game (and, unfortunately, getting dirtier every election in this country) and that candidates will use any tactic to gain an advantage over opponents.  But I was puzzled to hear that IS has executed attacks against Canada.  Which attacks would those be?

The PM may have been referring to the two attacks last October in Quebec and Ottawa in which two young men attacked and killed two members of the military before themselves being shot and killed by police.

Were these “IS attacks”?  No…and yes.  And does it matter?

You see, here’s the problem.  It appears that both Martin Couture-Rouleau (Quebec) and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (Ottawa) were at the very least inspired by IS to carry out their attacks.  The amateurish cellphone video left by the latter told us quite clearly what his MO was.

But I have seen nothing to suggest that either terrorist was a member of, or trained with, or was in contact with, or was instructed by, IS.

Does it matter?  In some ways yes.  Research has shown that those who receive training from qualified terrorist instructors (in weapons, explosives, etc.) are more lethal.  But you don’t have to be part of a group to be inspired by it.  After all, both Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau used very simple tools (a car and a long gun respectively) to carry out their attacks.  Pretty unsophisticated.

What would IS think?  Given their reaction to any number of attacks in the West, they would praise the two Canadians (and did in their on-line magazine Dabiq) and maybe claim responsibility for them.

Remember the first casualty of war is the truth.

It appears that for the time being the vast majority of Canadians who have adopted a violent radical ideology (be it AQ or IS or Shabaab or whatever) are “merely” inspired by these groups.  Which is not to say it might not change, especially if we see an uptick in returnees from foreign conflict zones.  And agencies such as CSIS and the RCMP and others are justifiably seized with this possibility.

Inspiration is usually seen as a positive thing (ever see those “inspirational” posters in offices?).  Alas it can also lead to evil.

And we have seen far too much evil lately.

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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