Twenty years after 9/11, Canada’s main terrorist threat comes from “domestic, lone actors” incited online who use everyday objects as weapons, according to a declassified intelligence report.
The “secret” Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) report obtained by Global News under the Access to Information Act shows how terrorism has evolved since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In contrast to Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon using four hijacked airliners, attacks in Canada “are almost certain to be unsophisticated,” the report said.
“ITAC continues to assess that the greatest terrorism threat is domestic, lone actors inspired or incited by violent extremist and terrorist ideologies promoted mostly online,” it said.
Any attack would be small-scale and unsophisticated, meaning using “readily available objects (knives, hammers, vehicles, etc.), in a hasty or indiscriminate way, with little planning done beforehand.”
Other developments include the growth of the far-right, which the report labelled Ideologically Motivated Violent (IMV) extremism, and its exploitation of the conditions created by the pandemic.
“Terrorist and violent extremist groups continue to create propaganda using the uncertainty and fear associated within the pandemic context and public health restrictions to galvanize intent,” it said.
The threat of ideologically motivated violent extremism “continues to grow in Canada and other Western countries and is increasingly an area of concern,” the report said.
It cited right-wing extremist groups such as The Base, as well as Incels, and the QAnon conspiracy theory, which the report noted had been classified by the FBI as a domestic terrorist threat.
Unchanged, however, is the persistent threat stemming from Al Qaeda (AQ), as well as ISIS, also known as DAESH, which continues to have supporters in the country.
“ITAC assesses that the primary terrorist threat to Canada stems from those inspired by IMV extremism and religiously-motivated violent extremist (RMVE) groups such as DAESH or Al Qaeda.”
The report said Canada “continues to see individuals who are inspired by violent extremist groups such as AQ and DAESH.”
“These domestic actors continue to express intent and capability to facilitate terrorist activity while some aspire to conduct a violent act of terrorism,” the government threat assessment said.
Social media remained a source of calls for attacks against Western targets, including “lone actor attacks in urban areas” and economic targets such as the trucking and shipping industries, it said.
Under the heading “Online proliferation of incitement, targets and methods,” the threat assessment report mentioned a sermon by B.C.-based Younus Kathrada.
Following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty by extremists in France, Kathrada’s YouTube sermon called the victim “cursed,” “evil-spirited” and a “filthy excuse for a human being,” the report said.
“Kathrada called on his audience to boycott French products and services but ended his sermon with a supplication to Allah to support the mujahideen over the enemies of Islam and to annihilate those who slander the prophet.”
Global News sent a request for comment to the email address in Kathrada’s facebook profile and received a response with a YouTube link to a sermon, with time codes for sections where he said to boycott French products, to practice “self-restraint,” and to be “cautious of committing sins.”
The report was the December 2020 update to the assessment of Canada’s national terrorist threat level, which was kept at medium, meaning an attack “could occur in Canada.”
Recent attacks in Canada have followed that trend, including the 2017 attack at a Canadian Tire by an ISIS supporter, Rehab Dughmosh, armed with a golf club and knife.
Last year, an alleged follower of misogynist Incel culture entered a Toronto erotic massage parlour, killed a woman with a machete, and injured a second woman. He has been charged with terrorism.
“Bladed weapons (ranging from kitchen knives to machetes to swords) continue to be used by lone-actor inspired terrorists, almost certainly due to the numerous high-profile attacks using this same method and the propagandizing effect these attacks have likely had,” the report said.
Also in 2020, Saad Akhtar approached a woman on a Toronto sidewalk, knocked her to the ground and beat her to death with a hammer. He left a note pledging allegiance to ISIS.
In June, the driver of a pickup truck rammed a family in London, Ont., killing four in what police said was a deliberate attack on Muslims and which prosecutors have alleged was terrorism.
But the report also said attacks in Canada “can occasionally have elements of a sophisticated attack (including the use of firearms).”