Police say ‘no imminent threat’ after West Edmonton Mall named as possible terror target
WATCH ABOVE: The Somali terror group Al Shabab issued a chilling threat this weekend to shopping malls in the west including West Edmonton Mall. As Vassy Kapelos reports, although the government says there is no credible threat, they are pushing through anti-terror legislation with little debate.
Alberta’s top tourist attraction was listed as a target in a recent video allegedly released by Somali-based extremist group Al-Shabab, though RCMP assured Global News there is no evidence to suggest any imminent threat.
The RCMP said they are aware of the threats made against the West Edmonton Mall in the video and are investigating its authenticity and validity.
“There is no evidence at this time of any specific or imminent threat to Canadians,” RCMP Staff Sgt. Brent Meyer said Sunday morning. “We take any threat to our country’s national security very seriously.”
The Edmonton Police Service said in a statement that all threats against public safety are taken very seriously.
“At this time, we have determined there is no imminent threat to Edmonton, Canada or its citizens,” Deputy Chief Brian Simpson said. “The safety and security of the public is our first and foremost priority.”
Simpson said the threat was “very general” and while police are paying very close attention to it, he made it clear there is no imminent threat.
“It is a cry for attention,” he said. “I think that’s very important, as citizens of Edmonton, as a Canadian community, we need to do our normal day-to-day business – that’s how we effectively deal with this – we don’t give them more power than they deserve and quite frankly they don’t deserve any power because they are terrorists.”
“Absolutely no specific threats right now around West Edmonton Mall or any other mall or areas right now,” added Assistant RCMP Commissioner Marlin Degrand.
WATCH: EPS, RCMP say ‘no imminent threat’ after WEM named possible terror target
The mall released a statement Sunday morning telling the public officials there are aware of the threats and have implemented extra security precautions. The statement noted some precautions “may be noticeable to guests, and others won’t be.
“We take any potential threat seriously and respond appropriately,” the statement read. “We will continue to follow the situation, along with law enforcement, and will remain vigilant.”
The mall website states it welcomes on average of 30.8 million visitors a year, making it Alberta’s number-one tourist attraction. The mall includes over 800 stores, a movie theatre and a water park.
The al Qaeda-linked terror group was behind the September 2013 attack at a Kenya mall that lasted days and left more than 60 people dead.
In the Westgate Mall attack, four gunmen stormed the high-end Nairobi shopping center, holding all inside for four days. Dramatic security footage showed people running for their lives and hiding under counters. The attackers lobbed grenades and sprayed bullets into the crowds, killing men, women and children. In the end dozens of people were killed, including the gunmen.
The video encouraging the attack on West Edmonton Mall was posted Saturday to a YouTube account allegedly linked to al-Shabab. It is more than an hour long, going into detail about the Nairobi mall attack. In the video’s last few minutes a man with his face covered speaks in perfect English, appealing for the viewer to “imagine” the scope of destruction possible. He then lists shopping malls that could be targets, including the Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, with a picture of each shopping centre and location coordinates appearing on screen.
“We call on our Muslim brothers, particularly those in the West, to answer the call of Allah and target the disbelievers,” says the man in the video. “The disbelievers have no right whatsoever to rejoice in the safety of their lands until safety becomes a reality in Palestine and all the lands of Islam.”
The video has yet to be authenticated by any major law enforcement agency.
Security expert David Hyde said he was a little bit surprised by the threat, because Al-Shabab has primarily been a regional threat in eastern Africa.
“While they probably have aspirations to move beyond that, we haven’t really seen them come out too, too much in terms of labelling countries like Canada … And U.K.” he said.
“It’s a little bit unusual in that regard, but it does follow the narrative that ISIS has followed, that al Qaeda has followed, and they’re trying to lift up their game and move beyond a regional threat.”
However, Hyde said he doesn’t believe Edmontonians need to be overly concerned at this point.
“In terms of the public, I think the message here would be that there’s no reason to think that there’s imminent plots of plans in place here. Al-Shabab central does not have the resources and infrastructure to commit such an act,” he said. “They’re trying to encourage radicalized Canadians who may have gone abroad.”
WATCH: David Hyde weighs in on Al-Shabab video
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney condemned the video, saying Canada will not be intimidated by threats from any terrorist organization.
“We are not sitting on the sidelines and instead joining our allies in supporting the international coalition in the fight against ISIL,” Blaney said in a statement Sunday. “Our national security and law enforcement agencies are continually monitoring for threats against Canada and its citizens and will take the appropriate actions to ensure the safety of Albertans and all Canadians.”
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said while he is concerned about the threat, he wants residents to trust that law officials and security services are taking the matter seriously and will keep the public safe.
“While vigilance among the public is important, the ultimate victory over those who would do us harm is to live our lives in freedom,” said the premier. “On this day, I would encourage all Albertans to do just that — enjoy our friends, families and the province we love in the same way we always do.”
The video in question also called for attacks on malls in the United Kingdom and United States.
WATCH BELOW: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson cautions shoppers who plan to visit the Mall of America, a mall that Al-Shabab included on a list of targets in a video released this weekend.
The Mall of America has also heightened security measures in the wake of the threats. The mall is located in Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.
Edmonton has a growing Somalian community. The Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton website states Canada is home to one of the largest Somali populations in the Western world, with as many as 20,000 Somalians living in Edmonton.
Edmonton mayor Don Iveson released a statement saying Edmontonians should feel confident the city is safe, and people should not overreact. He also said police are working closely with leaders of the Somali community.
“It’s equally concerning to hear the appeal directed toward a specific group. The Somali Edmontonians I know are hard-working, peace-loving, contributing members of our community and I fully expect they would be as offended as other Edmontonians at any suggestion of violence,” said Iveson.
The SCCSE recently fought back at reports that Edmonton’s Somali youth were at risk of being recruited by ISIS.
With files from Vassy Kapelos
© 2015 Shaw Media