Unlike its southern neighbour and many of its European allies, Canada has been fortunate to escape a major terrorist attack in recent months. Canada had experienced 2 terrorist attacks in October 2014, but both were relatively limited in scope and resulted in only two deaths. However, on August 10th, the threat of terrorism was once again made apparent. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued an urgent memo warning of an imminent terrorist attack. They included a photo of a masked individual, but did not provide further details. It later emerged that the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx (an agency of the Ontario Government) were alerted that Union Station in downtown Toronto could be a possible target. According to August 11th media reports, the RCMP alert was based on information originally provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The seriousness of the alert was underlined by a deadly confrontation between police and an ISIS sympathizer in the afternoon of August 10th. According to senior RCMP officials, the individual was armed with 2 explosive devices, one of which he detonated during the confrontation with police. Police had originally intercepted the suspect after he entered a taxi outside his house. The suspect was ultimately shot and killed by a police counter-terrorism team. In a later news conference, the RCMP identified the man as 24 year-old Aaron Driver, the son of a Canadian military officer. According to some reports, Driver had requested to be driven to a mall in London, Ontario, near a Canadian military recruitment centre and a bus depot. It remains unclear what Driver’s ultimate intended target was.
In subsequent media reports, Aaron Driver has been described as someone both previously known to Canadian police and also emotionally vulnerable to radicalization. His family house burned down at age 4, his mother died of cancer in 1999 and his father moved the family frequently in his job with the Canadian Armed Forces. Driver reportedly converted to Islam at the age of 17 though the exact details of his radicalization remain unclear. He was first identified as a concern for Canadian intelligence officials after tweeting videos that advocated for ISIS’s ideology. The RCMP began an investigation around the autumn of 2014 that culminated in Driver’s arrest in Winnipeg in June 2015. Subsequent investigations revealed that his laptop contained instructions for building explosives. Driver was placed under a Peace Bond and moved in with his sister in the town of Strathroy in south-western Ontario.
Further details on the original alert and the fatal incident continue to emerge. The broader context will likely still take time to be established. However, it serves as an important reminder. Despite being under the strict conditions of a Peace Bond, Aaron Driver had the ability to build explosive devices, with the clear intent of endangering the public. As with several recent cases in France, Aaron Driver was clearly identified as an ISIS supporter. The August 10th incident clearly shows the limitations of a Peace Bond’s conditions. As with many countries, Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies face the difficult task of trying to identify when radical sympathizers have decided to escalate to acts of violence. In addition, it will be interesting to see if this incident has any impact on the political debate surrounding amendments to the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51). The current Liberal Government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had pledged to amend the legislation. So far, however, no significant changes have been made and a shift in public opinion could possibly shape the reform that eventually takes place.
Late on Monday, after a long day of voting, Canada’s Liberal Party decisively won the country’s general election, effectively ending nearly a decade of Conservative rule.
While the centrist Liberal Party, which is led by Justin Trudeau, had initially started the campaign in third place, with the New Democratic Party (NDP) leading and the Conservative Party in second place, in what is a stunning turnaround, they now command a majority. Mr Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who is considered to be the father of modern Canada, indicated Monday that Canadians had voted for real change. Incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in power since 2006, has congratulated his rival and has since announced that he will be stepping down as the party’s leader. Mr Harper, one of the longest-serving Western leaders, had been seeking a rare fourth term in office. His party has announced that while he will stand down as Conservative leader, he will remain as an MP. Tom Mulcair of the left-leaning NDP also disclosed that he “congratulated Mr Trudeau on his exceptional achievement.”
The Liberal Party has won 184 seats of a total 338 seats in parliament while the Conservatives gained 99 seats. The NDP is on course to win 44 seats, less than half the number it held in the outgoing parliament. While there is no fixed transition period under Canada’s constitution, Mr Trudeau is expected to be sworn in in a few weeks’ time.
During the 11-week election campaign, the Liberal Party indicated that it would cut income taxes for middle-class Canadians while increasing them for the wealth; run deficits for three years in order to pay for infrastructure spending; do more in order to address environmental concerns over the controversial Keystone oil pipeline; take in more Syrian refugees and pull out of bombing raids against the Islamic State (IS) group while bolstering training for Iraqi forces; and legalize marijuana.
A video, purported to be by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabaab, is urging Muslims to attack shopping malls in the United States, Canada, Britain as well as other Western countries. The video comes just days after the militant group carried out a major attack in central Mogadishu, which targeted ministers of the internationally-backed government.
The threat, urging attacks on Western shopping malls, came in the final minutes of a more than hour-long video in which the extremist group also warned neighbouring Kenya of more attacks, similar to the September 2013 assault that targeted the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, in which 67 people were killed. The newly released video depicted footage from major news organizations showing the assault on the mall and said that it was in reprisal for alleged abuses by Kenyan troops against Muslims in Somalia.
The masked narrator concluded the video by calling on Muslims to attack shopping malls, specifically the Mall of America in Minnesota, as well as the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the Westfield Mall in Stratford, England. The narrator, who had his face wrapped in a black-and-white scarf and was wearing a camouflage jacket, spoke with a British accent and appeared to be of Somali origin. Speaking in the video, the man stated, “what if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of American in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?” He then called for Britain’s Westfield shopping centre to be targeted.
In response to the video, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has urged people to remain vigilant, adding that he took the threat serious. Speaking on morning talks show in the US on Sunday, Mr Johnson called the video “the new phase” of the global terrorist threat, stating “these groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause and they’ll attack on their own,” adding “I am very concerned about serious potential threats of independent actors here in the United States. We’ve seen this now in Europe, we’ve seen this in Canada.” When asked about the specific threat against the Mall of America, Mr Johnson stated, “any time a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place we’ve got to take that seriously. What we’re telling the public is you’ve got to be vigilant…. There will be enhanced security there that will be apparent, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important. It’s the environment we’re in.”
A statement released by the Mall of America, which is located in Bloomington, Minnesota and which is one of the nation’s largest shopping centre’s, indicated that officials are “aware of a threatening video which includes a mention and images of the mall,” adding that additional security have been put in place. On the ground sources have reported that shoppers seemed undeterred Sunday by threat.
In Kenya, the government has dismissed the new video. Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka stated Sunday that al-Shabaab is “…using propaganda to legitimize what cannot be legitimized. When you lead a group to go and attack a shopping mall and kill innocent shoppers that cannot be legitimized, those were not soldiers…. Muslims also died in the Westgate attack. It’s in our interest to ensure Somalia is stabilized because the instability affects us. The video is cheap propaganda trying to re-write history and to get more support from those (who) support them.”
Although al-Shabaab has carried out attacks in neighbouring Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, which all have troops that are fighting the extremist group as part of the multinational African Union (AU) force, al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, has never operated outside East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Minnesota, which is home to the largest Somali population in the United States, has been the target of terror recruiters in the past. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men from Minnesota have travelled to Somalia in a bid to join al-Shabaab. Authorities have reported that within the last year a handful of Minnesota residents have also travelled to Syria to fight with militant groups operating in the region. At least one Minnesotan has died while fighting for the Islamic State group.
On Thursday, a 19-year-old Minneapolis man, who was stopped at a New York City airport in November 2014 as he ant three others were allegedly attempting to travel to Syria, was indicted on charges associated with supporting the Islamic State group.
On Tuesday, a World Health Organisation (WHO) panel of medical experts ruled that it is ethical to offer untested drugs or vaccines to those people either infected or at risk due to the current Ebola outbreak. The panel however has cautioned West African officials that supplies will be limited.
WHO Approves Untested Drugs
A statement released by the WHO indicated that the panel has disclosed that any provision of experimental Ebola medicines would require “informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community,” adding that the drugs should be properly tested in the best possible clinical trials. The ethics panel met last week in order to discuss whether various experimental drugs and vaccines being developed to fight Ebola may be used in the current outbreak despite not having been fully tested or licensed. The meeting was called after the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, which is produced by US biotech company Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, was given to two American health workers who were infected with Ebola while working in Liberia.
On Wednesday, Canadian officials disclosed that between 800 and 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine, which has so far only been tested on animals, will be donated to the WHO for use in West Africa. Canada however will keep a small portion of the vaccine for further research and in the event that an Ebola case appears in the country.
However while Canada has announced that it will send doses of the experimental vaccine to the WHO, experts are warning that it will likely take between four and six months in order to make a large enough quantity to have any real impact at preventing the illness. Officials at the WHO have disclosed that so-called “first in man” trials, which are the first tests of the drug to be carried out on humans, will likely be conducted over the next two to four months. However even if the trials of the drug prove to be successful, supplies of it will remain limited, noting “it is…likely that the number of doses available for further study and/or deployment from end 2014 onwards will remain insufficient to meet demand.”
New WHO Figures Released
New data released by the WHO on Monday indicated that the death toll in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has now passed 1,000, and that the outbreak does not appears to be slowing down. In a press release Monday, the United Nations health agency confirmed that 1,013 people have died in the outbreak with authorities recording 1,848 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of the disease. The updated WHO figures are from August 7 – 9, when 52 people died and 69 more were infected. During this period, Guinea reported six additional deaths and 11 new infections; Liberia had 29 more deaths and 45 cases while Sierra Leone saw 17 new fatalities and 13 new cases.
In total, Guinea has reported 506 cases, with 373 deaths; Liberia has 599 cases, with 323 deaths; Sierra Leone has reported 730 cases and 315 deaths while Nigeria has thirteen cases and two deaths.
Officials in Cameroon and Italy have confirmed the kidnapping of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun who were taken during the early morning hours on Saturday.
Italy’s foreign ministry on Saturday confirmed that unidentified gunmen in Cameroon had ransacked the building where the hostages were staying in the north-western region of the country. The latest incident took place in the district of Maroua in the early hours of Saturday morning. Sources have indicated that gunmen were reported to have arrived by car before entering the building where the priests and the nun were staying at around 02:00 local time (01:00 GMT). The area is located close to a stronghold of militant Nigerian group Boko Haram.
On Sunday, Cameroonian security forces indicated that they were combing the area but have since stated that they fear the three hostages have been taken across the border and into neighbouring Nigeria. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, however Cameroonian security sources have indicated that they believe Boko Haram orchestrated the recent kidnappings.
The Italian foreign ministry has reported that the two priests, Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri, are from the Diocese of Vicenza in northern Italy. One of the priests had been in Cameroon for more than six years, while the other had arrived about a year ago. The ministry has also reported that a crisis unit to work on the release of the hostages has been set up. Canadian officials reported over the weekend that Gilberte Bussieres, 74, a nun from Quebec, had been kidnapped over night Friday. She is from Asbestos, Quebec and belongs to the Montreal-based Congregation de Notre0Dame. According to the congregation, Bussieres has worked in Africa since 1979 and ran a school in Douvangar, Cameroon. Those close to the nun have reported that they fear she is still week after having received cancer treatment in Canada two years ago.
Kidnappings of Westerners have become common in the remote, insurgency-wracked corner of West Africa, where borders are difficult to control. In November 2013, French Catholic Priest Georges Vandenbeusch was seized by heavily armed men who burst into his parish at night. They later reportedly took him to neighbouring Nigeria in an attack that was claimed by the Islamist group. Earlier in the year, a Frenchman employed by gas group Suez was kidnaped in the same area together with his wife, their children and his brother, while they were visiting a national park. Despite Abuja sealing a portion of its border with Cameroon, in a bid to block the movement of insurgents and other criminal groups, it is clear that Boko Haram militants continue to move across the border areas fairly easily.