Spy agencies see sharp rise in number of Canadians involved in terrorist activities abroad – The Globe and Mail

Not totally unsurprising that the numbers have increased, as well as our ability to detect:

Canada’s spy agencies have tracked 180 Canadians who are engaged with terrorist organizations abroad, while another 60 have returned home.

The latest figures mark a significant increase from the findings of the 2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada, which identified about 130 people involved in terror-related activities overseas, including 30 taking an active role with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the Nusra Front in Syria.

“The total number of people overseas involved in threat-related activities – and I’m not just talking about Iraq and Syria – is probably around 180,” Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Michel Coulombe told The Globe and Mail after testifying before the House of Commons public safety committee. “In Iraq and Syria, we are probably talking close to 100.”

These people are involved in various activities, including direct combat, training, fundraising to support attacks, promoting radical views and planning terrorist violence.

Mr. Coulombe said about 60 suspected foreign fighters have returned to Canada, although he stressed the numbers keep changing almost daily.

Source: Spy agencies see sharp rise in number of Canadians involved in terrorist activities abroad – The Globe and Mail

Phil Gurski’s take on their testimony:

I think the most important message in all this is that despite a rise in those who pose a real terrorist threat, the number is still relatively low, and perhaps manageable – though I will of course leave it to CSIS and the RCMP to make that call – in comparison to other countries.  Our allies in Europe and the Middle East are facing threats that are orders of magnitude larger than ours.  We here in Canada remain more or less safe: that does not mean that the threat is not real and that we can start shaving money and resources from our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  Again, though, it is important to see the positive side of this.  Sorry for the repetition, but the terrorist scourge does not represent an existential threat to this country and most likely never will.  The glass is half full people.

The current terrorist threat environment in Canada


ICYMI: Islam isn’t inherently violent or peaceful

Good lengthy piece by Andrew Mack providing context and data regarding violent extremism:

The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.

Thus ISIS and other extreme Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their ultra-violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations have minimal support among Muslims around the world and tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam.

In October 2014, the first opinion polls on public attitudes toward ISIS were published in three Arab countries for the Fikra Forum. The findings were instructive. Just 3 percent of Egyptians held favorable views of ISIS. The figure for Saudi Arabia was 5 percent and for Lebanon less than 1 percent. A year later Pew Research found that just 1 percent of Lebanese held “favorable opinions” of ISIS, 3 percent in predominantly Sunni Jordan, and 1 percent in Israel. In the Palestinian territories the figure was 6 percent, but even here a massive 84 percent held unfavorable opinions of ISIS. Previous polls revealed very similar trends about Muslim opinions toward al-Qaida.

Discussions about the violence of contemporary Islam focus overwhelmingly on armed conflict and terrorism. But a more appropriate metric for determining the propensity for violence of a particular society, culture, or religion is the incidence of intentional homicide.

In almost all societies it is murder, not war, that accounts for the large majority of intentional killings. And perpetrating homicide, unlike embarking on wars or terror campaigns, does not require long preparation, intensive organization, a huge range of weaponry, complex logistics, political mobilization, intensive training, or a great deal of money—which is one reason why war and terrorism death tolls around the world are far smaller than the number of homicides. It is far more difficult to mount an armed campaign against a state than to kill an individual.

And even today, wars directly affect only a relatively small minority of countries. All countries suffer from homicides, however. In 2015, the Global Burden of Armed Violence published by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, found that between 2007 and 2012, for every individual killed in war or terror campaigns around the world, seven individuals were murdered. Worldwide, for most people, in most countries, most of the time, murder is a far greater threat to human security than organized political violence.

So if there really is an inherent—Islam-driven—propensity for deadly violence in Muslim societies, we should expect to find that the greater the percentage of Muslims in society, the greater would be the numbers of homicides. In fact, the reverse is the case: The higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

In 2011, a major study by University of California, Berkeley, political scientist M. Steven Fish presented cross-national statistical data showing that between 1994 and 2007, annual homicide rates in the Muslim world averaged just 2.4 per 100,000 of the population. That was approximately a third of the rate for the non-Muslim world and less than the average rate in Europe. It is also approximately half the homicide rate in the United States.

In comparing individual countries, the difference is even greater. The latest homicide statistics from the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime reveal that for every murder perpetrated in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim state, seven people are murdered in the United States. This reality should give American Islamophobes pause.

It is possible in principle, as some critics have argued, that the lower murder rates in Muslim countries could be due not to a generally low propensity for homicide but to authoritarian governments whose harsh anti–violent crime policies are more effective in reducing the incidence of murder than those of democracies like the United States. But Fish’s careful statistical analyses controlled for this possibility and found no evidence to support it.

When it comes to war, Fish found no statistical evidence to support Samuel Huntington’s controversial “clash of civilizations” thesis that Muslim societies are inherently more war-prone than non-Muslim states.

Moreover, a lot depends on what type of war is being counted. A 2011 analysis by the Human Security Report looked at which states had fought most international wars—including colonial wars—since the end of World War II. The top four were France, Britain, Russia/Soviet Union, and the United States—in that order. No Muslim-majority country was in the top eight.

Yet another metric for determining the violence-proneness of countries is the “conflict year,” the number of armed conflicts—civil as well as international—that a country experiences in a calendar year. Some particularly conflict-prone countries—Burma is the prime example—have frequently found themselves fighting several different wars in a single calendar year for decades. Here the Human Security Reportfound that the countries that had experienced most “conflict years” since the World War II were—in this order—Burma, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Britain, France, Israel, and Vietnam. Again no Muslim-majority country was in the top eight.

Fish does not, however, claim that Muslim societies are less violent than those in the non-Muslim world with respect to all forms of deadly violence. Indeed, he points out that when it comes to terrorism, Islamist radicals were responsible for 70 percent of deaths from “high-casualty terrorist bombings” around the world between 1994 and 2008. This means, he suggests, that while terrorism is very far from being a uniquely Muslim phenomenon, “… its perpetrators in recent times are disproportionately Islamists.” Since 2010, the incidence of Islamist terrorism has increased sharply.

But in this context it is instructive to note that approximately 600 million of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims live in Southeast Asia and China, while a little more than half that number—317 million—live in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet the rate of deadly political violence associated with radical Islamist groups in Southeast Asian and China today is only a tiny fraction of that of the less populous Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa region.

Why should the level of political violence in the populations of these two regions differ so dramatically even though they share the same allegedly violence-prone religion? One possible answer is that religion is not the primary driver of conflict in these regions. In Southeast Asia, national governments in Muslim-majority countries have what political scientists call “performance legitimacy”—meaning they deliver the goods and services that their citizens want. With few exceptions, the governments of their co-religionists in the Middle East and North Africa do not.

In the radical Islamist conflicts that are tearing apart Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the region, the exclusionary politics, state repression, rights abuses, corruption, and incompetence of the regimes that the radicals have sought to overthrow provide more compelling insights into what drives the abhorrent violence of ISIS than does the extreme Islamist ideology that seeks to legitimize the killing.

Source: Islam isn’t inherently violent or peaceful.

The Soft Power of Militant Jihad – The New York Times

An angle that has not received much coverage by Thomas Hegghammer, Director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.:

Why have tens of thousands of people from around the world chosen to live under the Islamic State’s draconian rule and fight under its black flag? To understand this phenomenon, we must recognize that the world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves.

For the past four years I have been studying what jihadis do in their spare time. The idea is simple: To really understand a community, we need to look at everything its members do. Using autobiographies, videos, blog posts, tweets and defectors’ accounts, I have sought a sense of the cultural dimensions of jihadi activism. What I have discovered is a world of art and emotions. While much of it has parallels in mainstream Muslim culture, these militants have put a radical ideological spin on it.

When jihadis aren’t fighting — which is most of the time — they enjoy storytelling and watching films, cooking and swimming. The social atmosphere (at least for those who play by the rules) is egalitarian, affectionate and even playful. Jihadi life is emotionally intense, filled with the thrill of combat, the sorrow of loss, the joy of camaraderie and the elation of religious experience. I suspect this is a key source of its attraction.

The corridors of jihadi safe houses are filled with music or, more precisely, a cappella hymns (since musical instruments are forbidden) known as anashid. There’s nothing militant about this traditional genre, which dates from pre-Islamic times. But in the 1970s, Islamists began composing their own ideological songs about their favored themes. Today there are thousands of jihadi songs in circulation, with new tunes being added every month. Jihadis can’t seem to get enough anashid. They listen to them in their dorms and in their cars, sing them in training camps and in the trenches, and discuss them on Twitter and Facebook. Some use them to mentally prepare for operations: Ayoub El Khazani, a 25-year-old Moroccan man who attempted a shooting attack on a Paris-bound train in August, listened to YouTube videos of jihadi anashid just minutes before his failed operation.

Anashid are closely related to poetry, another staple of jihadi culture. Across the Arab and Islamic world, poetry is much more widely appreciated than it is in the West. Militants, though, have used the genre to their own ends. Over the past three decades or so, jihadi poets have developed a vast body of radical verse. Leaders from the Islamic State’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani to Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahri often include lines of poetry in their speeches and treatises. Foot soldiers in Syria and Iraq sometimes hold impromptu poetry performances or group recitals in the field.

Perhaps more important than poems for jihadis are dreams, which they believe can contain instructions from God or premonitions of the future. Both leaders and foot soldiers say they sometimes rely on nighttime visions for decision making. Omar Hammami, the Alabama-born man who fought with the Shabab in Somalia in the late 2000s, said he thought of defecting, “but it was really a few dreams that tipped the scales and caused me to stay.” Mullah Omar, the mysterious one-eyed Taliban leader who died in 2013, reportedly made no consequential strategic decision before getting advice from his dreams.

Jihadi culture also comes with its own sartorial styles. In Europe, radicals sometimes wear a combination of sneakers, a Middle Eastern or Pakistani gown and a combat jacket on top. It’s a style that perhaps reflects their urban roots, Muslim identity and militant sympathies. The men often follow Salafi etiquette, for example by carrying a tooth-cleaning twig known as a miswak, wearing nonalcoholic perfume, and avoiding gold jewelry, as they believe the Prophet Muhammad did.

As new recruits shed their jeans and track suits for robes, as they memorize the words to the Islamic State’s anashid and learn to look for glimpses of paradise in dreams, they discover a whole new lifestyle. Music, rituals and customs may be as important to jihadi recruitment as theological treatises and political arguments. Yes, some people join radical groups because they want to escape personal problems, avenge Western foreign policy or obey a radical doctrine. But some recruits may join because they find a cultural community and a new life that is emotionally rewarding.

As the West comes to terms with a new and growing threat — horrifically evident in the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. — we are not only confronting organizations and doctrines, but also a highly seductive subculture. This is bad news. Governments are much better equipped to take on the Slaughterer than they are He Who Weeps a Lot.

Source: The Soft Power of Militant Jihad – The New York Times

Good example of Muslim criticism of violent extremists

A reminder to those who continually ask question the perceived lack of criticism of terrorism by Muslims that it is not too hard to find, as this short video attests:

Saudi-Born Singer Shams Bandar: Why Do We Pin All Our Problems on the West?

Doing Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) right: Gurski

Phil Gurski’s sensible advice:

Which brings me back to the new government and its CVE plans (see article here).  For what it is worth, here are my suggestions, based on 32 years as an intelligence analyst and 18 months as an outreach advisor/participant”

  1. Keep the government role low-key.  “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” does not work on this file.

  2. Leverage community leaders.  They know their communities best

  3. Use Muslim youth. They have a wealth of energy and good ideas

  4. Make sure CVE covers the entire ideological spectrum, even if the single greatest national security threat today is from violent Islamists

  5. I know this one is nigh impossible but here it is anyway: do whatever you to ensure that senior public officials do not say anything really stupid (like equating wearing the hijab with terrorism – yes it was done!).

Source: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting

Half a century of terrifying Canada: Before jihadists, other extremists carried out hundreds of attacks

A good reminder that violent extremism is more common, and with more varied motives (e.g., various religions, Quebec separatism), than the current focus on Islam-inspired extremism:

The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia shot a Turkish diplomat in Ottawa in 1982. Neo-Nazi skinheads beat a man to death with baseball bats in Montreal in 1992, believing he was gay. A Vancouver doctor who performed abortions was shot in his kitchen in 1994.

These are some of the attacks catalogued in a first-of-its-kind database of Canadian terrorism launched at Carleton University last week. Available online to researchers, policy makers and the public, the inventory was created to promote a more scientific understanding of Canada’s experience with terrorism.

Described by its creators as “the largest collection of incidents involving terrorism or violent extremism in Canada that’s ever been compiled,” it will be analyzed for years to come, but it already has something to say about the past half-century of Canadian terror: there has been a lot of it committed by a lot of different groups.

“Canada has had much more terrorism than most Canadians are familiar with,” says project leader James O. Ellis, a research affiliate at the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society, based at the University of British Columbia.

“I think I’ve also been surprised at the diversity from which violence has come.”

The 1,815 incidents, which caused 450 deaths, were carried out by religious groups, ethnic groups, separatists, leftists, rightists, supremacists, environmentalists and anarchists. Ellis said the “cosmopolitan, diversified demography of Canada is reflected in the variety of violence that’s occurred here.”

The Canadian Incident Database, online at extremism.ca, was put together in a year-and-a-half by a team from UBC, Simon Fraser University, Carleton University, the University of Waterloo and the Université de Montreal, with funding from Public Safety Canada and Defence Research and Development Canada.

Half a century of terrifying Canada: Before jihadists, other extremists carried out hundreds of attacks

Database link (which unfortunately does not allow searching by motivation/reason):