When all everyone wants to talk about is far right extremism can we forget about the jihadis?

Why Islamist terrorism must remain an investigative priority.

Terrorist movements such as Al Qaeda and ISIS still pose a significant threat and cannot be ignored.

The talk on terrorism has been taking a sharp turn of late. Almost two decades after 9/11 it seems a lot of people are getting tired of jihadi-this and Islamist-that. We have been at ‘war’ with groups such as Al Qaeda (AQ) and Islamic State (ISIS) for far too long and it all seems so boring, doesn’t it?

After all, AQ leader Usama bin Laden has been dead since 2011 and was replaced by a man who couldn’t inspire a person dying of thirst in the desert to drink a cup of water (Ayman al-Zawahiri). Then a week ago ISIS grandee Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed and it remains to be seen where that particular organisation goes next.

Sure, there are other groups around the world – Boko Haram in West Africa, Al Shabaab in East Africa, Lashkar-e-Taiba in South Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. – but they do not garner the same attention, nor pose the same level of threat on the international scene as the big boys – AQ and ISIS – once did.

It is time, therefore, to turn the page, no? We must now dedicate our efforts to thwarting another terrorist cause and what better one to focus on than the far right? We are seeing more analysis and more op-ed pieces on what these extremists are doing in a variety of countries, primarily in North America and Western Europe, and I have seen some statistics recently that the FBI in the US is involved in almost as many far right investigations (850) as they are in homegrown Islamist extremist ones (1000).

We here in Canada see the same call for a shift in focus. After all, Alexandre Bissonnette, the man who killed six worshipers in a mosque in Quebec City in 2017, seems to have been inspired by far right ideology, and if we throw in whatever so-called ‘incel’ Alek Minassian (he ran down two dozen people in Toronto in 2018) was trying to prove, it would point to a terrorism problem in our country that has nothing to do with jihadis. Hence the pressure on CSIS and the RCMP to man up on those threats.

But what if all this armchair analysis is wrong?

I fear at times that we are far too quick to shift our gaze to new things. It is as if our clickbait culture compels us to seek out new challenges or just something different. It is as if we get bored and demand different stimulation. Those jihadi guys? Old news.

I for one have been arguing that we cannot and must not cave in to this demand to take investigative resources from problem A (Islamist extremism) and re-assign them to problem B (far right). And I am not alone in this it seems: the German equivalent of the RCMP/FBI, the BKA (Bundeskriminalamt), has established a new department to tackle what it labels “terrorism motivated by Islam.”  And this in a country beset with what appears to be a growing neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant fringe, in addition to the anti-Semitism that never went away.

The bottom line is that both threat streams are important and both need resources. In a perfect world the agencies responsible for keeping us safe would simply be given more people and more money – but alas this world is not perfect. Hence, our protectors will have to manage with what they have. They will stop most of the bad guys but they will not stop them all.

The crux of the matter is that Islamist terrorism is not going away and organisations such as ISIS will remain a threat for a very long time, even if al-Baghdadi’s replacement is an utterly bland man like al-Zawahiri. The terrorist outfit still has thousands of fighters in Iraq, has spawned affiliates in at least 20 nations (Syria, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Chechnya, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, DRC, Mozambique, and Turkey, and undeclared ones in Bangladesh and Tunisia) and who knows how many wannabes and inspired are out there. Sorry dear readers, but the number one terrorist menace, Islamist extremism, still poses a very big challenge. Yes, we have to pay close attention to the far right, but taking our eye off the jihadis would be a big mistake.

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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