Canada recently experienced two terrorist attacks from radicalized extremists possibly
inspired by the events in Syria and in Iraq. These attacks bring the question of domestic lone
wolf and cell extremism to the limelight. After reviewing these attacks, the United States should
further invest resources with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) as well as assist
Canadian counterterrorism legislation.
Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25, who converted to Islam last year, ran over two Canadian
soldiers in Quebec on October 20, 2014. One soldier was injured and one soldier, Warrant
Officer Patrice Vincent was killed. Police then pursued the suspect. Couture-Rouleau then fled to
Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, where he crashed his car. While exiting the vehicle, the suspect
produced a knife against officers. The policemen fatally shot him. The Couture-Rouleau Incident
seems to be eerily similar to the Michael Adebolajo Incident (AQ inspired lone wolf terrorist ran
over a British soldier in London, and then hacked him to death).
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and CSIS had been monitoring Couture-
Rouleau for possible terrorist activity. Couture-Rouleau had posted violent Facebook posts under
the pseudonym Ahmad LeConverti praising the actions of ISIS in June 2014 and expressing the
desire to travel to the Middle East in order to fight. He may have viewed ISIS spokesman Abu
Mohammed al-Adnani call for violence against the Homelands of anti-ISIS coalition states,
available on social media. This message calls for several forms of violence, including
“Smash[ing] his head with a rock, or slaughter[ing] him with a knife, or run[ning] him over with
your car, or throw[ing] him down from a high place, or chok[ing] him or poison him” (my
emphasis). He was flagged for attempting to travel to Turkey, and had his passport revoked in
July 2014. He was one of the ninety on the list of the CSIS suspected jihadist list. PCMP officers
met with Couture-Rouleau many times to advise him to seek community support, with the last
meeting occurring on October 9, 2014. Steven Blaney, the Public Safety Minister Steven,
described the incident as “clearly linked to terrorist ideology.” Thus, while police monitored
Couture-Rouleau, these activities were insufficient to prevent an attack.
In direct response to this incident, Blaney introduced a bill that would enable American
surveillance of Canadian citizens. This method would be in line with the rule of law in Canada,
which forbids the CSIS from spying on Canadian nationals. Furthermore, Blaney hinted that a
provision within the bill would allow the American surveillance agencies to keep their sources
secret. Furthermore, this bill would allow the CSIS to explicitly act on “threat diminishment.”
This bill could be a distinct possibility for the Intelligence Community to support an ally, both in
the Five Eyes and in the anti-ISIS coalition, during its time of need. Furthermore, Canada raised
its threat level from low to medium, in order to heighten awareness of possible threats. Thus,
Canada put in short and long term measures to mitigate terrorism in wake of the hit and run terrorist attack.
Another terrorism incident occurred on the morning of October 22, 2014. Michael “Abdullah” Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, also known as Michael Joseph Hall, assaulted the Parliament Hill’s Centre Block and the National War Memorial in Ottawa with a high power rifle. He started his rampage at the National War Memorial and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo at point blank range. Zehaf then ran into the Parliament skirmished with security officials, and was killed by the Sergeant-at-Arms in the building. Zehaf’s rampage injured three other Canadians. RCMP units locked down the capital, fearing additional shooters. There was a report of another shooting at a nearby mall, but this claim proved to be false. Concurrently, the U.S. Embassy closed. The police lifted the lock down at 8:30 p.m.
Like Couture-Rouleau, Zehaf had a history with Canadian authorities. Zehaf had been arrested for “for petty crimes such as possession of drugs, credit-card forgery and robbery.” He had tried to travel abroad to the Middle East, but Canadian police confiscated his passport. Zehaf’s father, Bulgasem, fought in Libya around 2011, which may have encouraged his son to take up arms.
In a speech responding to the attack, Prime Minister Steven Harper blamed the attacks directly on ISIS. He spoke that ISIS “has specifically targeted Canada and Canadians…that we should not feel secure, even in our homes. It would be convenient to dismiss such statements as the mere rambling of lunatics, were it not for the fact that ISIL’s deeds have been fully in line with its words.” This statement is dangerous, as it frames an ISIS inspired attack as a direct ISIS attack. While ISIS inspired lone wolves and cells present a domestic threat to Canada and to the U.S., ISIS in and of itself presents a far lower threat to the Homeland in comparison to other groups, such as the Khorasan and AQAP. Our intelligence resources should be based on risk – they should go to thwarting the mass casualty attacks of against soft targets rather than lone wolves – which are often so hard to detect and to intercept that it would be wiser to invest in hardening resilience rather than outright detection.
The tactic of lone wolf attacks or cell attacks by ISIS influenced individuals are a possibility against anti-ISIS coalition members, and have been demonstrated to be an effective terror weapon against civilian populations. This kind of attack may be repeated against other members of the anti-ISIS coalition. But the members should not be complacent. They should adopt measures, whether in the long term they strengthen intelligence sharing and counterterrorism legislation using USAPATRIOT 2001 or IRTPA 2004 as a model. Furthermore, states can harden structures, such as critical infrastructure, mass transit centers, or other mass soft targets against bombings, armed assault, or vehicular assaults. I hope to soon write a policy memorandum on this topic by the next meeting of the CCNSC.
Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty,
CBC. “Martin Rouleau, Quebec driver shot by police, ‘radicalized': RCMP.” October 20, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/martin-rouleau-quebec-driver-shot-by-police-radicalized-rcmp-1.2806104.
Globe and Mail. “Attack in Ottawa could increase calls to give CSIS more power.” October 23, 2014. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/attack-in-ottawa-could-increase-calls-to-give-csis-more-power/article21252622/.
Globe and Mail. “Attack on Ottawa: PM Harper cites terrorist motive.” October 23, 2014. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/parliament-shooting/article21217602/.
Guardian. “Ottawa shootings: a spectacular failure for Canadian intelligence.” October 22, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/22/ottawa-shootings-canadian-intelligence-failure.
NPR. “Mother Of Ottawa Gunman: ‘I Am Mad At Our Son’.” October 23, 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/10/23/358249385/details-emerge-of-alleged-assailant-in-canadian-parliament-attack.
NYP. “Deadly ISIS mowdown on Monday caused Canada to raise terror level.” October 23, 2014. http://nypost.com/2014/10/23/deadly-isis-mowdown-on-monday-caused-canada-to-raise-terror-level/.
NYT. “Hit-and-Run That Killed Canadian Soldier Is Called Terrorist Attack.” October 21, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/world/americas/canadian-soldier-run-down-in-what-officials-call-act-of-terror-dies.html?_r=0.
WaPo. “Parliament shooting shocks Canada.” October 22, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/gunman-kills-canadian-soldier-opens-fire-inside-parliament-in-downtown-ottawa/2014/10/22/49a4ca3e-5a23-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html.
WaPo. “Terrorist ideology blamed in Canada car attack.” October 21, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/driver-shot-dead-after-he-hits-2-canadian-soldiers/2014/10/20/ef6c95b4-58bb-11e4-9d6c-756a229d8b18_story.html.