Column: Echoes still to be heard from attack in Ottawa

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) knows that about 130 individuals have left Canada to join terrorist organizations...

As Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the soldier shot last week while standing guard at the National War Memoria, was buried on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid a wreath at the Memorial in his memory and in support of Canada. He minced no words about the danger of radical extremism and the growing threat of home grown terrorists.

We are no strangers to terrorism. But with last week’s brutal murder of Cirillo, the attack on Parliament, and the savage killing of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Montreal, the potential for unstable, self-radicalized lone wolves obsessed with conspiracy theories, irrational hatreds, or ISIS-fueled anger with its warped interpretation of Islam have been a headache for intelligence and security experts for years. It was just a matter of time as to when and where one of them would surface and wreak havoc.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) knows that about 130 individuals have left Canada to join terrorist organizations, their destination Syria to fight with ISIS. Over 80 have returned. Yes, they are being watched. But, no doubt, in the dark underbelly of this terrorist obsession are others operating under the radar who are not on the watch list and who could surface anywhere, anytime. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who shot Cpl. Cirillo was one such person.

But who, or what, is ISIS?

Three years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) didn’t exist. Yet now it dominates wide regions of Syria and Iraq and takes great pride in its gruesome beheadings on YouTube. It might be easy to dismiss them as brutal, fanatical lunatics except for the fact that they are an entity with a sophisticated command, intense control, a propaganda machine, and effective logistical capabilities to allow them to hold critical territory in the heart of the Middle East.

According to an article by Shoshana Bryen and Michael Johnson with the Jewish Policy Center, ISIS is a combination of a non-al-Qaeda revival of the Islamic State of Iraq (originally sponsored by al-Qaeda) and Sunni Syrian rebel groups including the Nusra Front. They are immensely wealthy with known cash reserves and assets well over $2 billion. They continue to raise $2 million a day from seized oil sales, extortion and smuggling.

Their agenda is to enforce their view of conservative Islamic traditions and they use social media to spread fear. They have over 30,000 fighters known for their extreme brutality. The common thread is hatred for western democracy. As U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Islam is a religion of peace. They (ISIS) are not Muslims. They are monsters.”

But the attack in Ottawa has sent jitters through the halls of major cities. Immediately after last Wednesday’s attack on Parliament Hill, there was an unprovoked attack on New York City police officers by a man with a hatchet. And remember the Boston Marathon bombings.

Security has been increased around public buildings in Washington. In the U.K., where over 500 radicalized individuals have left to join ISIS, heavily armed police detail now oversee the changing of the guards at London’s Buckingham Palace.

Lone wolf terrorists are on the rise. According to author Ramon Spaaij in his 2012 book Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism, between the 1970s and 2000s, attacks per decade have risen 45 per cent in the U.S. and a huge 412 per cent in 14 other countries. The worst on record is the attack in Norway when Anders Behring took 77 lives.

To combat the threat, the Harper government wants to increase the powers of CSIS and the RCMP but many want a measured approach to protect personal freedoms.

Finding that balance between vigilance and freedom could be quite challenging.