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Yet another Canadian couple charged with seeking to join ISIS

Ontario woman Haleema Mustafa faces terrorism charges for alleged attempt to join ISIS. Borealis looks at this breaking news.

ISIS was very good at producing propaganda to entice Westerners to leave their countries and join up in the mid 2010s. That was when not much was known about how violent they were. So how can a Toronto-area couple who sought to join in 2019 not have known about the true nature of this terrorist bunch? Borealis looks at this breaking news.

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An Intelligent Look at Terrorism

In this podcast, retired Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski discusses the subject of terrorism: what it is (and isn’t), trends, developments and more. Phil is not shy to wade into controversial matters and provide his perspective honed from more than three decades in intelligence.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism.

2 replies on “Yet another Canadian couple charged with seeking to join ISIS”

Part B.
You lament the fact that terrorism prosecutions fail in Canada (and also in other countries, from time to time).
One reason they fail in my experience is that the intelligence services and the prosecutors do not actually understand the mindset and world view of the accused or the accused’s ideology. Just one example. Say a person is charged with being a member of or seeking to join a terrorist organisation (and that description is itself problematic, owing to the systemic lack of clarity over the term, “terrorism”). For the charge to be proven depends on other pieces of information:
1. what is is to be a member of a group (a conceptual issue) and how a person becomes a member of a group – in the eyes of the group and the eyes of the law and the actions a person must be found to have undertaken to become a member, in the eyes of the group or the law.
2. what it is to join a group and the actions a person must, as a matter of law, perform in order to be guilty of joining or attempting to join a group.
IS (and AQ for that matter) have criteria for membership and set out the hoops one has to jump through in order to joined or to become a member of one or other group. Unfortunately, the laws in some countries (such as Australia) were drafted in a vague way and the police and security services and court appointed experts were unable to advise the courts on these matters. As a case in point, you might review the (Australian) case of Queen v. Abdirahman-Khalif.
The point of that is that the police, security services and the prosecution have to actually understand what it is they are up against. When one reads affidavits and complaints the FBI lodge against defendants, one sees them working systematically through such issues. It was not always like that, but the FBI seems to have gotten on top of the matter to some extent in the past decade.
The same issue is now afoot with extreme right terrorists. Few in the intelligence services in some countries had a clue about accelerationism, replacement theory, white (or other definable group) genocide, an impending civil war (now called the “boogaloo”), ethnic enclavism, and so on; or some of the more colloquial issues, such as “Day of the Rope” or “Cultured Thug” or “Great Awakening”. An analyst needs to know all this stuff if she or he is to find the baddies before they act and prosecute them when they do. And to do that someone has to read the material the groups and individuals produce and extract from them the ideological principles and axioms as well as instructions. For instance, it is not generally known that the Christchurch NZ mass killer and terrorist, Brenton Tarrant, conducted all his planning according to instructions set out by Norwegian mass killer and terrorist Anders Breivik and that they share a number of beliefs (accelerationism, replacement theory, European chauvanism, a forthcoming civil war and war between cultures, religions and races, ethnic envlavism – and their self conception as axiomatic actors. Once you know this you can spot others who are walking down the same path. And not only in Caucasian society too.

Hi Phil
Another interesting podcast that raises many significant issues for anyone seeking to counter terrorism, say by working in CSIS or like organisation, or comment on terrorism, as you now do. I’d like to comment on just two of the issues you raise.
Again my thoughts in two parts. You will need to get a beer.

Part A
You say you are baffled (but fascinated) why someone would seek to join ISIS in 2019 when everyone knows how thoroughly wicked ISIS was and remains and that is does not stand for anything good. I do not find it at all surprising. Bear with me.
The simple answer is that such volunteers do not see the actions of IS as wicked or evil; or if they do see the actions as unpleasant, they do not consider the actions wrong but rather see IS actions as justified and necessary, in order to cleanse humanity of religious impurity so it may approach the ideal and personal purification so as to enter paradise.
One would need to interview this young couple to discover their precise motivation. However, in my experience (informed by presentations I attended over a decade ago), all volunteers to IS have a specific world view, and specific mindset and believe amongst other things:
(a) as sincere Muslims they have a duty to join, or at least try sincerely to do so (and Allah will know) – and failure to make a sincere effort will lead to them being cast into hellfire on the day of judgement. Joining Is, seeking to join or undertaking an act of jihad will save their soul, enable them to avoid eternal torment and reduce uncertainty about their fate and that of their loved ones (in this life and the hereafter). So, in order to avoid such uncertainty and earn the rewards promised by Allah true believers must seek to join IS. If IS has territory, then that means hijrah (immigration). If such true believers die, then they can intercede on behalf of 70 of their relations (hence, an incentive for martyrdom, in addition to the 72 virgins and immediate entry to paradise without having to experience the torment of the grave. Add another set of steak knives and God only knows what might happen!]
(b) what we see as brutality is for the true believers required by the command of Allah and to fail to act in that way (beheadings, crucifixions, slavery, rape, amputations) is to defy Allah and by they earn his wrath. The particular atrocities you mention are typically considered punishments that under Islamic law (shariah) are mandated and fixed by God. These are Hudud punishments and are imposed for acts that are zina (unlawful sexual intercourse such as fornication), unfounded accusations of zina, drinking alcohol, highway robbery, and some forms of theft and for IS, apostasy and failing to punish the apostate.
Rather than repelling people, as IS’ brutality does to non-Mulims and many Muslims, the imposition of Hudud punishments and IS brutality actually acts as an attractant: reasons for attempting to go. From 2014 many of those travelling in a number of jurisdictions actually knew and were very happy with what we consider the brutality of IS. I know this from seeing answers thwarted travellers gave. Unfortunately, many police, security services and governments failed to understand these people were sincere. Fanatically sincere.
(c) the failure of Muslims to have a land of their own and ultimately rule the world (“Make the word of Allah uppermost”) is a punishment imposed upon Muslims by Allah for for their failure to live an authentic Muslim life or attempting to do so. So, in order to win Allah’s pleasure (approval) they must live an authentic Islamic life and seek to do so – and cleanse Islam of apostates who are blamed with preventing the religion from attaining the victory Allah promised. [Hence, the reason some in IS, as well as others attracted to similar versions of salafi-jihadism were quite happy to kill other Muslims is they believed they were eliminating from the Islamic body a “pollution” that was causing punishment from Allah, the most significant of which was failure to prevail; that is, they believe they fail because they were were not pure of heart, motivation, intention or action.] This is why one sees in their ideological tracts the phrase, “seeking (in pursuit of) Allah’s pleasure”: they are seeking to win Allah’s approval for their actions, by Allah allowing them to succeed. And they believe that if a plot fails it is not poor planning, but because Allah willed it to fail because they were not pure enough. It is totally mad; but like all cults, to the people in the room, makes perfect sense. I suspect that if you ask the young couple the subject of your podcast, why they failed to join IS, they would tell you either Allah had other plans for them and caused them to fail, or he caused them to fail as a punishment for their not being sincere enough.]
Such individuals conceive of themselves as “axiomatic actors”. [I hasten to add, this is not my term]. As axiomatic actors, they believe there are actions they must perform and a way they must live in order ot remain within the religion. These beliefs and behavioral norms are “axioms” that define and constitute the ideology while observance with them, signal who is a true believer. Sometimes we call it “piety” or “ritual”, but to be sure, such beliefs and norms not only modify behaviour, but serve as signals to others, as to who is in and who is not in the club – and who can be trusted and who cannot.
It is not surprising that IS and AQ ideology continues to attract adherents. If IS manages to maintain control of territory in Africa, we may well see more people travelling to that locale, in order to live the authentic life, and thereby seek Allah’s pleasure.
Support for wicked ideologies is hardly a new phenomenon. The horrors of the Soviet Union became known from the early 1930s, yet this did not deter a many young people from joining the cause. Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt, Cairncross and later Blake, are just a few. Moreover, people knew what communism descended into, yet flocked to Spain to fight with the Republicans. Similarly, in the UK and US, thousands of people supported fascism and indeed, Nazism, knowing in many cases, what Hitler was up to. And now, with China offering to some what appears to be a viable ideological alternative to liberal democracy, we are seeing and have been for the past 20 years or so, spies drive by commitment to this ideology (as well as the usual craven and venal motivations of sex, money and standing.) This is where reflecting on terrorism can assist our not CT security issues.
When people who came to support these odious systems were asked why they did, many said that they knew full well what the systems were doing, but they it was necessary to cleanse society and that some brutality was needed in order to ensure the success of the revolution and the attainment of the utopia the ideology promised. Philby says it quite explicitly (My Silent War) as does Blake (No Other Choice).

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