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“ISIS-Inspired” Terrorist Attacks in Canada

American security officials have preliminarily concluded that the two attacks in Canada on Oct. 20 and 22, targeting military personnel and government facilities, were “ISIS-inspired.” Evidence has not yet been assembled proving that the two men—one described as a recent convert to Islam and the other, the son of a Libyan father who was trying to travel to Syria—who carried out the attacks against Canadian soldiers near Montreal and against the National War Monument and the Parliament building in Ottawa were active members of any jihadist group. But since last month when the United States launched its first air attacks in Syria against the Khorosan Group, a unit of Al Qaeda, US security services have publicly warned of intelligence that jihadists linked to the Syrian arena were planning terrorist actions in North America.
On Oct. 20th, Martin Couture-Rouleau killed one Canadian soldier and seriously injured a second when he ran them over with his car near Montreal. Couture-Rouleau then got into a high-speed chase with police and was ultimately shot dead. A 2013 convert to Islam, Couture-Rouleau was blocked from boarding a plane to Turkey in June and had his passport taken and he was placed on a “high risk traveler” list by Canadian authorities.
On Oct. 22nd, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed an Army guard at the National War Memorial on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and then went on a shooting rampage inside the Parliament building before being shot dead by the sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian parliament. The 32-year old Zehaf-Bibeau was initially described as also having been recently converted to Islam in the Montreal area, but later emerging information is that Islam was the family religion through his father, Belgasem Zehaf, a Libyan businessman living in Canada. Zehaf-Bibeau had a long arrest record on petty crimes from drug possession to parole violations before his attack on the Parliament. He, too, was placed on the Canadian “high risk traveler” list barring him from legally traveling out of the country. Because of this alert, Zehaf-Bibeau’s recent application to travel to Syria and an earlier one to travel to Libya were rejected.
As Zehaf-Bibeau was carrying out his shooting rampage in the Parliament building, the Royal Canadian Mounted Policy (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS—its equivalent to the American CIA)—locked down major parts of the capital city. Authorities, who had been tipped off to possible terrorist attacks weeks before the two incidents, feared that the assault on the Parliament might be part of a larger “Mumbai-style” commando attack on multiple sites around the capital.
American security officials are probing whether the two incidents in Canada were linked to the Khorosan Group, a unit of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front in Syria, which had been running a training camp in northern Syria for foreign jihadists who would be deployed for terrorist attacks around the globe in their home countries. The Khorosan training base was the very first target of American bombings in Syria when the air war against ISIS was launched in Syrian territory last month.
Based on communications intercepts, satellite tracking and other intelligence, Western intelligence agencies concluded that the Khorosan Group—named after a region along the Iran-Afghanistan border where an Al Qaeda cell had been operating for years—was planning terrorist attacks in North America, Europe and China in the near future.
In September, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani had issued an international call for attacks against “disbelieving Americans or Europeans—especially the spiteful and filthy French—or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State… Then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.”
A week before the two Canadian attacks, directors of the RCMP and CSIS had testified before the Parliament that there were 130 known Canadian residents who had traveled abroad to join jihadist groups—and 80 had returned to Canada. The government was conducting 63 ongoing national security investigations into jihadist activities in Canada, involving 90 priority individuals. In reality, the Canadian government is maintaining varying levels of surveillance on an estimated 5,000 Canadians who are suspected of having direct ties or sympathies with Al Qaeda and related organizations.
Canadian authorities are now investigating background on Zehaf-Bibeau’s father, Belgasem Zehaf, according to media reports. The elder Zehaf was quoted in an American newspaper in August, 2011 as a Montreal resident turned rebel fighter against Muammar Qadafi in Libya in the town of Zawiyah. Libyan rebel fighters from the 2011 battles have gone to Syria in significant numbers and are reported to have joined ISIS fighting units.

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