OTTAWA — The RCMP is investigating a claim that a dozen Canadians in al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan are preparing to mount terror missions in Canada.
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“Any information that we receive, we look at assessing its credibility and then taking proper actions to ensure that Canadians and our allies are kept safe,” Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud, in charge of the Mountie’s national-security program, said in an interview Friday.
The Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online reported Friday that “well-placed” Taliban sources say a group of Canadian militants is receiving jihadi training in al-Qaeda camps in North Waziristan for terror attacks in Canada.
The story was written by Syed Saleem Shahzad, the paper’s Pakistan bureau chief. He has extensive experience reporting on the Taliban and authored the upcoming book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban 9/11 and Beyond.
While Mr. Shahzad’s credibility appears firm, that of so-called Taliban sources is routinely questioned by Western authorities on guard against al-Qaeda’s increasingly slick propaganda operations directed at Western audiences.
Typically, in such cases, police and security intelligence investigators will first try to determine if any of the details can be matched to information in their files.
Mr. Shahzad, in a brief email exchange with the Ottawa Citizen Friday, bristled when the veracity of his report was questioned.
“Nobody took that seriously until the arrest of (the) German citizen in Pakistan which essentially exposed that whole western Jihadi network there,” he wrote.
(Germany went on high alert in late 2010 after a series of terrorism scares, including from a German man claiming he and others had been trained in Pakistan camps to launch attacks in Germany.)
Arif Wazir, described in Mr. Shahzad’s report as a local militant in North Waziristan, is quoted as saying 12 Canadian men departed for Afghanistan last February and, after nine months there, al-Qaeda dispatched them to the Darpakhel area of North Waziristan in November.
“In Afghanistan, they received basic jihadi training, while currently they are busy doing some special courses,” Wazir said.
“Their main learning is how to use sophisticated weapons, and how to connect with local smuggling networks in North America. They are also learning how to use ordinary material like sugar and basic chemicals to make powerful explosives. These militants will then return to their country to execute al-Qaeda’s plan of targeting big cities in Canada,” the militant said.
Mr. Shazad and colleague Tashir Ali write that “according to available information” the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which helped them reach Afghanistan.
The 30-year-old Canadian head of the group, they say, converted to Islam in 2007, “sports a golden beard,” and goes by the alias Abu Shahid.
“According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians,” says the article, which includes the alleged names and aliases of six of the men.
All are common English and French surnames, which Martin Rudner, a terrorism expert and professor emeritus with Ottawa’s Carleton University, said lends the report credibility because it fits a growing trend of young Europeans and North Americans converting to radical Islam and joining jihadi ranks.
The most infamous is Anwar Awlaki, a U.S.-born, Yemeni-based cleric and al-Qaida recruiter behind plots to attack the West.
“On his website, he has, in fact, a theme of the western jihad, in which he makes specific reference to mobilizing converts and diaspora Muslims and he sees this as being, in effect, the Achilles heel of western society,” said Mr. Rudner.
Several recently convicted Canadian terrorists followed Awlaki teachings, including members of the Toronto-18 terror group convicted of planning attacks on targets in Ontario.
Mr. Rudner said that the story was disclosed to a reporter in Pakistan working for a Hong Kong-based newspaper, “speaks of non-propaganda. If you’re going to want to propagandize Canadians, there’s rather more direct ways of doing it to ensure that the message is, in fact, broadcast,” he said.
Meanwhile, news reports in October said three young Winnipeg men ventured abroad in 2007 after first undergoing conversion to radical Islam. They were tracked to Waziristan.
North Waziristan has been a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold for training militants and organizing attacks on NATO forces since western militaries drove the groups from Afghanistan in late 2001.
Unmanned, missile-firing U.S. drone aircraft have dramatically escalated attacks on militant camps in the region since U.S. President Barack Obama took power in 2009. Several of those killed have been foreign nationals undergoing jihadi training.
http://www.canada.com/news/Canadians taking Qaeda training Pakistan report/4111794/story.html
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