The recent arrests in the Greater Toronto Area have netted 17 accused person. Five of them are youth.
The accused are a very diverse bunch. Two of them, troubled youth of Somali descent, were already in prison for pleading guilty for having guns when crossing the border from the USA. One of them told his mother that "they are changing my story around". One is a widower over 40. A recent graduate of health sciences and the son of a medical doctor. A really "calm and religious" good basketball shooter.
There is no common thread at all among the accused, whether it is ethnicity, education, work, citizenship, criminal background or lack of it. Some are professionals, others employed, some students, some unemployed.
This is in strack contrast to the profiles of the London bombers last summer, who had more commonalities than the bunch above.
Reactions and Responses
Prime Minister Steven Harper's response is somewhat laughable: he attributes the reason Canada is targeted is 'because of who we are'. Even a reason of : "because they are evil" would have been better than that content free statement. On his mind I am sure is Canada's role in Afghanistan, shifting from peace keeping to active combat, as well as extending that role for years to come. Canada, Afghanistan and the world are better served if our role is focused on aid and rebuilding.
MPs are talking about "engaging the Muslim community" being vital.
A Toronto mosque was vandalized overnight, most probably as a reaction to those arrests.
This time, I am skeptical about whether this is a genuine terrorism cell or not.
Think about these points:
- The RCMP undercover cops are the ones who delivered the bomb making material.
- How can two imprisoned youth be actively involved in plotting for a bomb?
- Where would three tonnes of fertilizer be stored?
If I were to succumb to conspiracy theories, I can go further:
Fearmongering helps keep the public in check, and implement more draconian laws and concentrate power for the government. It also means more money for CSIS and the RCMP, something that the Harper government has made as a campaign promise. Moreover, it will also make CSIS or some other entity the equivalent of the US CIA engaging in spying and covert operations overseas. Internet monitoring was also mentioned as a means of nabbing those alleged plotters, so we should see more of that in the future put into laws.
Previous Terrorism Cases: No Convictions
Let us not forget that since September 2003, there has been 21 suspects detained for an alleged terror plot against Toronto targets. They are mainly Pakistani students, with at least one of them giving himself up to police voluntarily. In almost three years, there has been no details on the alledged plot, nor have there been a trial let alone a single conviction.
A similar case is of Mohammad Momin Khawaja, who was arrested in March of 2004, and denied bail a bit later. Again, there are no details on the plot here, apart from the allegation that it was related to Operation Crevice, a London, UK bomb plot with ammonium nitrate fertilizer based bomb.
This is becoming very much like the USA, starting from the Ashcroft era, where he would theatrically announce the arrest of a terrorist cell, accusing them of all sorts of things, from "having ties to al-Qaeda", to plotting against targets in the USA.
Only later would the accused be either let go free, plead guilty of lesser charges, or be convicted or minor offences, such as forging documents or lying on their immigration applications.
Several cases that come to my mind are the group of Oregon black Muslims, the Yemeni-Americans known as the Buffalo Six (more here) and the Detroit Sleeper Cell. This tactic works in giving the public the impression that:
- they are under constant danger from attacks
- they are being actively protected from these attacks by the government
And hence, people are cowed into giving the government more power as time passes by ...
- Toronto Star: Man attended 'training camp': sources.
- Toronto Star: How internet monitoring sparked a CSIS probe.
- Toronto Star: Sharpshooters, Dogs and Tears.
- Toronto Star: RCMP behind bomb material.
- Toronto Star: Suspect Profiles.
- CBC: Bomb Plot Suspects Appear in Court.
- CBC: Accused 'inspired by Al-Qaeda', says police.
- CBC In Depth: Terror sweep.
- CBC In Depth: Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act.
- Al Jazeera: Canada holds 17 in terror attack plots.
- Wikinews: 17 arrested in Canadian counter-terrorism operation.
- Wikipedia: 2006 Toronto Terrorism Arrests.
- CTV: 15 of 17 Ontario terror suspects appear in court.
Since I wrote the original articles exactly 4 years ago, more events have unfolded. Several of the suspects were freed without charges, some pleaded guilty, and some went on trial.
So it seems that this was a mixed bag. Some were true terrorists to be, with all the lurid details just coming out now. Others were innocent and arrested unjustly. Some have realized they have no chance of getting out and plead guilty. Other seem to be fighting it to the end, and lost too.
There are still questions on entrapment: would all of them have done this if they were not coaxed by the two informants?