What we know so far about the terrorist arrests in Kingston

What an end to the week it was! Breaking news out of Kingston, Ontario (about 2 hours south of Ottawa and 2.5 east of Toronto) that the RCMP had made two arrests in what was being called a terrorism investigation. Reports of planes flying over the city for days doing surveillance. Talk of bomb material. And all in sleepy old Kingston (no disrespect intended Kingstonians – um Kingstoners – er Kingstonites??).

We did get an RCMP press conference on Friday (yesterday) in which a few details emerged but what we do not know vastly outweighs what we do know. Nevertheless, the story unsurprisingly made national news all day and many, many people had their say (including yours truly: 18 radio and TV interviews in one day alone). So, what does all this mean and what is important? For what it is worth, here are my two cents:

  • I find it interesting that of the two arrested it was the younger one (who cannot be named due to his age) who was charged with ‘counselling a person to place an explosive device’. Normally one would expect the older one to be the leader but then again there is not a huge age difference between the two so it might not be significant.
  • The RCMP spoke of having found ‘trace elements’ of explosives material but gave no details and mentioned IED (improvised explosive device) on several occasions. I am no bomb expert but to me an IED can be anything from a pipe bomb to what Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City in 1995 – quite a range.
  • I found it fascinating that no mention was made of the underlying motivation. The Mounties have to have uncovered something in order to lay terrorism charges under section 83.1ff of the Canadian Criminal Code (serious act of violence for political, ideological or religious reasons). So why not pony up (sorry! bad pun!)? I am going out on a limb and state that the pair are likely not far-right neo-Nazis and tentatively suggest that this is tied to Islamist extremism. Then again I could be wrong….
  • It did not take long for the anti-immigrant crowd to weigh in once it was learned that one of the two arrested was a sponsored Syrian refugee. For the record the refugee was released without charge (he could always be re-arrested). Despite the fact that we know NOTHING about him – what his ideology was, if any, where he was radicalised, etc. – the only salient fact for some was that he was Syrian refugee (albeit one that had lived in Kuwait for a decade). So we have NO IDEA whether he came here as a terrorist. Is it possible? Yes. Does the vetting system need to be tweaked? Probably. But we must not make this a ‘refugee’ issue. Stories like this from the New York Times are sensationalist.
  • I get why the RCMP was so mum on many issues related to the case. This is, after all, an ongoing investigation. When little info is given, however, it leaves the field open for wide – and wild – speculation. This is often counter-productive and scary.

In the end, kudos to the RCMP and their partners for breaking up a serious terrorist plan, even if no target or date had been selected. Kudos as well to the FBI for sharing intelligence with us in Canada. But most importantly, a valuable reminder that yes terrorism can happen even in Kingston, but also that terrorism is – thankfully – a rare beast in Canada (hence no need to raise the terrorist threat level). We still live in the Great White North – even whiter this week after all the snow we had! – and it is indeed a beautiful and safe land.

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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