The Canadian government plans to take new steps to prevent Canadian passport holders from going abroad to join extremist groups and fight in foreign conflicts.
The government is not only aware of more than 130 “individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and who were suspected of terrorism-related activities,” but officials also know of 80 who have returned to Canada after going abroad as “extremist travellers.”
The details of the plans come just as word of two more Canadians – brothers from Calgary — who are believed to be fighting with the Islamic State (IS).
Collin and Gregory Gordon from Calgary not only flew to the Middle East to fight with Islamist groups, but they lived in the same building as three other Canadian militants, all of whom have died in the past year.
The Gordon brothers reportedly left for Syria at some point in 2012.
It’s believed they became radicalized in Calgary — where Damian Clairmont, killed in Syria in January, and Salman Ashrafi, killed in a suicide bomb blast in Iraq last November, and Farah Mohammed Shirdon, who died earlier this month in Iraq, all linked up with extremists.
But this group makes up just a fraction of the at least 130 Canadians the Canadian government believes to have taken up arms with Islamic extremist groups, such as the IS in Syria in Iraq, Jahbat al-Nusra in Syria, al-Shabab in Somalia and others.
Canada, like so many other western countries, is now coming up with strategies to deal with nationals leaving home to fight.
The Canadian government detailed plans to carry out “targeted early interventions” to get to young people early, before they become radicalized and join up with jihadists, in its 2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.
“The phenomenon of individuals leaving their countries of residence to engage in foreign conflicts is not new. Canada and many other countries have experienced this for decades. However, the need to address the threat these extremist travellers pose both to home countries and to the countries to which they travel has become more pressing with their participation in conflicts such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan,” Public Safety Canada said in the report released on Friday.
The concern is not only are those homegrown extremists being involved with groups carrying out atrocities, such as with IS, but that they’ll at some point return and possibly commit terrorism-related activities on Canadian soil.
“The Government is aware of about 80 individuals who have returned to Canada after travel abroad for a variety of suspected terrorism-related purposes,” the public report stated.
“Some may have engaged in paramilitary activities. Others may have studied in extremist schools, raised money or otherwise supported terrorist groups. Some had their travel interrupted by financial issues, injuries or outside intervention and may plan to travel again. Some extremist travellers never achieved their goals and simply returned to Canada.”
The report added not all extremist travellers returning to Canada pose a direct security threat, but some returnees could help radicalize others.
According to the report, young people “who have not yet crossed the threshold into violent activity” will be the target of interventions.
“Candidates for intervention are paired with community-based mentors and other resources for advice, support and counselling aimed at limiting the impact of violent extremist ideology,” Public Safety Canada outlined in the report, adding the RCMP is also working on an intervention program and will collaborate with “community resources” and local police.
The returning terror threat
Other governments feel there is a threat from their citizens travelling abroad to join the likes of the Islamic State.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Friday the terror “threat is growing” because there are at least 500 British passport-holders who have gone to Syria, and possibly Iraq, to fight with the Islamic State and other extremist organizations.
The U.S. has not changed its terror threat level, saying there are no “specific, credible” threat risks to the country related to Islamic State advances or foreign fighters, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But, two U.S. citizens are known to have been killed while fighting with IS this week and the New York Times reported Thursday U.S. agencies have identified “nearly a dozen Americans” who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with the militant organization.
As far as threats to Canada, the Canadian government, while responding to a question about the Gordon brothers, told Global News it does not comment on security matters.
© Shaw Media, 2014