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Attacks Force Canadians to Face Their Own Threat
Intelligence Agents Identify More Than 50 Suspect Groups
By DeNeen L. Brown Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, September 23, 2001; Page A36
TORONTO, Sept. 22 -- While Canada denies any connection with those who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Canadian officials say the country is riddled with terrorists.
Canada has long felt distant from terrorism because it has no named enemies and is neither a superpower nor an imperialist. But analysts say Canada can no longer expect to remain on the sidelines of the global fight against terrorism.
Some officials say the attacks have been a wake-up call to Canada to strengthen laws that have allowed groups linked to terrorism to proliferate, mostly by using Canada as a base to organize, raise money and launch terrorist attacks abroad.
"Terrorism has a certain similarity to organized crime," said Justice Minister Anne McLellan. "What fuels it is money. And therefore, what we have to do is strike at the ability of terrorist organizations to raise money."
The Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York have thrown Canadians into a state of soul-searching on how to respond. Pacifists say Canada should avoid military conflict, while others contend that Canada must stand by the United States -- its neighbor, largest trading partner and closest ally.
A former counterterrorist sees both arguments as detached from the reality of terrorism.
"As Canadians, we don't remotely get it," said David Harris, a former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada's spy agency. "Look at the terms of the debate. We've got those people still off in never-never land," saying Canada won't be affected by terrorism.
"It's the next group that is really interesting that says, 'Let's do our bit by the States.' They are missing the whole point," he said. "The whole point is [that] even if the United States were to cease to exist tomorrow, we are riddled with homicidal maniacs ensconced in our territory."
Canada's intelligence agency has identified more than 50 terrorist groups and 350 individual terrorists who live, work and raise money in Canada. They came from the Indian state of Punjab, the Middle East, Sudan, Lebanon, Turkey, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. They represent, among others, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Irish Republican Army and the Kurdish Workers' Party.
Many militant Sikhs, who seek an independent state in India, live and gather in Vancouver. Sikh militants in British Columbia have been linked to the bombing of an Air India jet in 1985 that killed 329 people over the Irish Sea and the same-day bombing at Narita airport in Japan that killed two baggage handlers. Militant refugees from the Middle East have a great presence in Toronto. Thousands of Tamil Tigers, the group fighting for a homeland in Sri Lanka, have made Toronto their home and a base to raise money. Over the years rivals have fought for turf in gun battles.
Officials say Canada has indirectly been an accomplice in terrorism. "Individuals and groups here have had direct or indirect association with the World Trade Center bombing," said Ward Elcock, the former director of CSIS, "suicide bombings in Israel, assassinations in India, the murder or tourists in Egypt, the Al Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia and the bombing campaign of the Provisional IRA."
Still, many Canadians have not seen their country as vulnerable, the spy agency said in a May 2000 report. But it warned that Canada has become a "primary venue of opportunity to support, plan or mount" terrorist attacks. Canada is a society that embraces multiculturalism, it said. And, like the United States, it opens its doors to some refugees who import conflicts.
The United States detains most refugees who arrive without documentation, but Canada detains only those thought to be security risks. The rest are released until their hearings and immediately gain all the rights and entitlements of Canadian citizens, including welfare.
"In the mid-1990s, we found out that the Canadian welfare system was paying for clan wars in Somalia," said John C. Thompson, director of the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto, which studies organized violence and political instability in Canada. "Somalis were coming here and making multiple welfare claims under multiple names, then using the proceeds to send home to Somalia."
Last week, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci proposed that Canada and the United States synchronize their customs and immigration policies to create a perimeter around North America.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in Parliament that Canada will join in the war against terrorism. He said later that the country's open immigration policies would not be subjected to outside pressure.
"Immigration is central to the Canadian experience and identity," Chretien said. "Let there be no doubt; we will allow no one to force us to sacrifice our values or traditions under the pressure of urgent circumstances."
Thompson said Canada's record for detecting and deporting terrorists "is less than good." The most frequently cited case is that of Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested in 1999 while trying to cross into Washington state from British Columbia with a bomb in the trunk of his rented car. A U.S. Customs agent stopped him and found enough explosives in the car to take down a building. Ressam was convicted in April of plotting to bomb an airport in California last New Year's Eve.
Martin Rudner, a Middle East specialist at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, said that the United States cannot continue to criticize Canada's immigration laws. "There are as many loopholes in the American system that allow terrorists to enter the United States and organize themselves and plan operations as there are in Canada," Rudner said. "What we know of the conspirators in the attack on September 11 tells us that the United States is no less a haven than Canada."
Rudner said that severe federal budget cuts in Canada in the 1990s hurt the country's law enforcement agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "The question is when we have identified a person as a terrorist, do we have the capacity to deport that person," Rudner said. "Here in Canada that fails."
Canada has no law making it illegal to raise money to support terrorist causes. Legislation has been proposed making it illegal for any Canadian to fund terrorist activities. But some of the groups have links with Canada's political structures in Canada, providing political influence and votes.
One group often cited is the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils, which CSIS and the State Department say is a front organization for the Tamil Tigers, a group that is fighting a civil war in Sri Lanka in which 60,000 people have been killed. Last spring, Finance Minister Paul Martin and Maria Minna, Canada's minister for international cooperation, attended a New Year's celebration sponsored by the group. When criticized, Martin said the dinner was a "celebration of dance."
Sitha Sittampalam, president of the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada, one of the members of the federation, said the group has no links to terrorism. He said the group raises money here to help "people suffering" in Sri Lanka. "This is being interpreted wrongly by security organizations here that we are for terrorist activities. It is all propaganda," he said.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 23, 2001
Bulls***!! I'll bet the person who wrote this article never stepped a foot inside Canada. Propaganda at its worst.
-- ourhome (email@example.com), September 23, 2001.