Extremists head to Fort McMurray to make money quickly: police chief

WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton’s police chief sits down with Gord. He says extremists are using Fort McMurray to make money fast to fund terrorist activities.

CORRECTION: In the video above, international flights from the airport in Fort McMurray are mentioned. The only international flights the airport currently offers are seasonal service to Cancun, Mexico. It does not offer any flights to Europe or England, as erroneously mentioned in the video above.

EDMONTON – Edmonton’s police chief says extremists are working in Fort McMurray to shore up funds quickly in order to finance terrorist activities.

“It’s a place where you can go… and make some money very quickly,” said Chief Rod Knecht.

“If you want to be anonymous or fly under the radar you can do that. Most of the companies have a security screening process, but some of these people have no history as far as a criminal record.”

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Knecht says there is no way to pinpoint the number of people that have worked in the oilsands region before heading overseas to fight for extremist organizations.

“[There’s] no way of telling,” said Knecht. “We know there’s some, but there’s no way of putting that down to a number.”

According to the RCMP, the gunman in the deadly Ottawa shooting was able to save a significant amount of money working in Alberta’s oil fields.

“He had access to a considerable amount of funds,” said RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. “We are investigating all of his disbursements in the period leading up to the attack.”

READ MORE: Ottawa shooter made video before attacks: RCMP 

Knecht said northern Alberta tends to be the place where males between 18 and 35 go to make money.

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Wednesday night, the mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo responded to Knecht’s comments.

“They don’t jive well with me at all,” said Melissa Blake.

Blake calls the timing of the comments a real blow to the community, which is trying to cope with falling oil prices and layoffs.

“I am incredibly disappointed that there would be such a specific reference to Fort McMurray. It’s insulting, frankly.”

As it is in many other cities in Canada, radicalization is a growing problem in Edmonton.

Knecht said the radicalization problem is “predominately through social media focused on youth.”

READ MORE: More youth being radicalized: Edmonton police chief

He says the EPS has a number of programs in place to combat this kind of activity, including programs for youth. The police service decided in December to give all front-line staff counter-terrorism training.

“We’re going to train up 600 people around what to look for when they’re checking cars, when they’re going through a residence, when they’re interacting with various communities, talk to those people, look for the signs and then do something about it.”

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Knecht believes all Canadians have to be more vigilant.

“I think where we get our strength from, here in Canada certainly, is the community. If we get everybody involved in the community, we do some outreach work with those diverse communities that we work with all the time… It’s that little tidbit of information, it’s that individual that comes forward and says ‘you know, this individual is acting a little off, he’s self-radicalizing, he’s spending a lot of time on the internet on specific sites.”

Early Wednesday afternoon, the RCMP issued a news release addressing radicalization in Alberta communities, saying there is “no indication that Fort McMurray is more at risk than any other community.”

The statement reads:

“The Key issue of radicalization is not centred around a location, local economy or other geographic concern. Rather, it lies with identifying those persons, wherever they may choose to live or work, who may be vulnerable to being radicalized for a specific purpose.  The national policing perspective is that we need to help them by working collaboratively with partners, communities at risk and families within those communities to prevent them from identifying with the ideology of such groups. 

The RCMP is the lead agency on National Security concerns in Alberta and across the country.  There is no indication that Fort McMurray is more at risk than any other community in Alberta, or the country for national security concerns. The RCMP is concerned by any terror related activity that is a direct threat to Canada as a country.  We take any threat to the security of Canadians and their livelihood very seriously.  As Canada’s national police force, the RCMP will fulfil its mandate and responsibility to investigate all such threats as they are known.  We remain attentive for any threats and take active measures to ensure that the safety and security of Canadians is protected.

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Canadians should not be fearful of the suggested terrorist threat, nor should they be complacent.  It is important for the public to be vigilant and to bring any suspicious behaviour to the RCMP tip line at 1-800-420-5805 or by contacting your local police agency.”

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