Canada's Counter-Terrorism Program

Canadian Security Intelligence Service

1996 Public Report


International terrorism threatens public safety and challenges the civil authorities and democratic structures of developed states. In Western Europe, the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, to name three of the more populous countries, have had to deal with difficult problems from the effects of terrorism. In Israel, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin on November 4, 1995 by an Israeli extremist, and a campaign of suicide bombings by Palestinian extremists, helped to persuade the Israeli electorate to replace a government responsible for the peace process with one thought more likely to adopt a harder line.

Annual international terrorist incidents in the 1990s number in the hundreds. Examples of some of the indiscriminate and targeted killings by terrorists in the last two years included, amongst others:

* a nerve agent attack on the Tokyo subway killed 12 and injured 5,500;

* a car bomb in Oklahoma City killed 168 and injured more than 500;

* an explosion in Riyadh killed five Americans and wounded 34;

* an IRA bomb in London killed two civilians and injured more than 100; and

* a bomb blast in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killed 20 and wounded hundreds.

As other developed countries tighten their responses to terrorism, Canada will continue to be attractive to terrorists as a safe haven and a means of ready access to the United States. The 1985 Air India disaster that claimed 329 lives, which remains under active investigation, was a reminder that Canada has no guarantee of immunity. Less well known is a series of terrorist incidents involving Canada at home and abroad over the last 15 years, including:

* an attempt on the life of the Turkish commercial attaché in Ottawa;

* an explosion at the Litton plant in Toronto that injured 10 people;

* the Ottawa assassination of the Turkish military attaché;

* an attack on the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa, causing the death of a security guard;

* a bomb of Canadian origin that killed two people in Japan’s Narita airport;

* the wounding of a visiting Punjab cabinet minister in British Columbia;

* an apprehended plot to attack Indian locations in Toronto;

* the shooting of a Punjabi-language newspaper editor in Vancouver;

* the occupation of the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa, without loss of life;

* the attack on a Sudanese politician at the Ottawa Airport; and

* letter-bombs sent to the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto and the Alberta Genetics laboratory.

At the start of 1997, trends in international terrorism mix the old and the new and include the following:

* continued sponsorship of terrorist organizations by a few states;

* intractable conflicts in the Punjab, Middle East and elsewhere;

* the continued rise of Islamic and other forms of religious extremism;

* increasing right-wing extremism in developed countries;

* declining left-wing extremism, except in opposition to the right;

* rejection of what is perceived elsewhere to be Western cultural imperialism;

* nationalism and separatism as primary motivators for terrorism;

* the use of terror by alienated groups, less understood and less predictable;

* hostage-taking to extort money from governments and multi-nationals;

* the search by terrorists for weapons of mass destruction; and

* the exploitation of communications technology for cyber-terrorism.

Activities are selected and used by terrorists in proportion to their demonstrated success or failure, as reported instantaneously by the worldwide news media. The hostage-taking at the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru is one example. The challenge for governments is to devise responses appropriate to the given crisis that will be neither an overreaction nor a violation of democratic values.

Overseas, US interests present targets of opportunity for terrorists, with transportation facilities being vulnerable. Since 1991, transportation infrastructure and facilities have been the target of 20 per cent of all international terrorist attacks. In 1995, there were 170 attacks worldwide against transportation systems. Canadians could be at risk simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as was the Canadian couple travelling in the Paris underground train ripped apart by an explosion on December 3, 1996. The wife was one of four passengers killed, and the husband was one of dozens injured.

In Canada, the threat from international terrorism will continue to be associated with homeland conflicts. Many of the world’s terrorist groups have a presence in Canada, where they engage in a variety of activities in support of terrorism, including:

* providing logistic support for terrorism outside Canada;

* developing the potential for terrorist actions in Canada;

* fund-raising, advocacy, and information dissemination;

* intimidating Canadian citizens in émigré communities;

* providing safe haven for terrorists;

* arranging transit to and from other countries; and

* raising money through illegal activities.

These activities in Canada are an obvious concern for intelligence and law enforcement officials. Insufficient effort in either area could leave Canada open to charges of being implicated indirectly in acts elsewhere against other states. To avoid such a possibility, even greater cooperation with like-minded countries will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Domestic terrorism by disaffected individuals and groups can be expected in many developed societies and is difficult to prevent due to the less predictable nature of this type of threat. Inspired by extremist beliefs, or by real and imagined grievances, groups and individuals resort to random unconstrained terrorist attacks. The Oklahoma City bombing and the gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult are examples.

By contrast, the domestic security environment in Canada recently has appeared relatively calm, despite a number of contentious issues which elude consensus and attract a very few people who would move the political agenda through violence. Incidents that may have a potential for life-threatening violence include blockades and occupations by armed native activists in support of treaty claims. The extreme right in North America comprises a number of different racist factions without a central leadership, whose decentralised decision-making adds to their unpredictability. Prominent members of the extreme right establish the broad directions of the movement, and decisions on what actions to take rest with individuals or small cells. Tensions between racists and their adversaries have the potential for violence. Two pipe bombs were mailed to white supremacists in the summer of 1995 by a previously unknown group calling itself the Militant Direct Action Task Force.

Canada’s response to terrorism is integral to the response by the G7/P8 countries reported last year. A great deal of international cooperation has taken place since the Ottawa Declaration of December 1995. Canada, for example, played a full part in the Anti-Terrorism Summit at Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, in March, 1996, and the international ministerial Counter-Terrorism conference at Paris on July 30, 1996. Canada also will work on the Counter-Terrorism group preparing for the heads of government meeting to be held at Denver in the summer of 1997.

If the campaign against terrorism is to succeed, bilateral and multilateral intergovernmental cooperation, as well as the momentum generated by the G7/P8 countries, will need to be sustained. Terrorism affects the responsibilities of several Canadian federal departments and will demand even more interdepartmental cooperation in the future, particularly when Canada hosts such high-profile events as the upcoming APEC conference in Vancouver in November, 1997.

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