TORONTO (Aug. 20)
Acting on a complaint from B’nai Brith Canada, Canadian police and government intelligence officials are investigating a Web site operated by an Islamic terrorist group in Toronto, and another in Montreal, that encourages violence against Jewish targets.
The Toronto Web site is registered to Islamic Jihad, one of the main groups responsible for terror attacks against Israel.
The site contains “statements from Palestinian terrorists taking credit for bombing attacks against Israeli civilians and threats of further violence,” the National Post newspaper reported in a recent front-page story, after translating some of the content on the site from the original Arabic.
An “invitation to jihad” and other incitements to violence have been posted on Islamway.com, the Montreal-registered Web site, the newspaper reported.
“These sites are obscene and an affront to the sensibilities of all Canadians,” said Rochelle Wilner, president of B’nai Brith Canada. “That Canada should be used to recruit killers is unacceptable. It is imperative that the Canadian public understand that the threat of creating terrorist cells in this country is now a reality.”
In a press release issued last week, Islamway disclaimed responsibility for the violent messages on its site, saying they were posted by private individuals on an English-language discussion board similar to those operated by CNN.com and Yahoo.
The revelations about the Web sites are only the latest indications that some terrorist groups have long regarded Canada as a safe haven from which to conduct their deadly activities.
The issue exploded into Canadian public awareness in 1985, when Sikh militants bombed an Air India jet flying out of Vancouver, killing all 329 aboard.
Sixteen years later, officials of Jewish and other groups targeted by terrorists remain dissatisfied because lawmakers have yet to enact tough counter-terrorism legislation.
In a May 2000 report, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service indicated it was watching 50 organizations and 350 individuals connected with international terrorism, and identified “transnational Islamic extremism” as the “leading threat to Canada’s national security.”
“We seem to be dragging our heels,” said Wilner, one of several leaders calling for tough anti-terrorism measures and immigration controls on suspected terrorists.
Canada hasn’t ratified its support of an international convention for the suppression of terrorist financing that both the United States and Britain already have turned into law.
While the United States has buttressed its anti-terrorism legislation with the death penalty, there is no Canadian law that specifically outlaws terrorist activities. Terrorist acts are treated like ordinary crimes in Canada.
“Before we go forward with this, we have to consult with stakeholders who may have an interest in this,” said Michael Zigayer, a senior counsel in Canada’s Department of Justice. “We could look at the U.S. and the U.K. models, but we have to examine their constitutionality. We need to remember that we have a charter for freedom of expression and freedom of association.”
So far, the Liberal government has brought forward only one limited piece of legislation. The proposed bill would make it a crime to raise funds for terrorist organizations such as Hamas or Hezbollah, but critics say it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“It’s a modest first step, but we’re urging much stronger action,” said Keith Landy, national director of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “The government should criminalize some of the terrorists’ activities, not just deregister their charities. What are they waiting for, some devastation to take place in Canada before they take steps?”
Jewish and Israeli consular officials in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto were rattled last month after Ahmed Ressam, a convicted terrorist from Montreal, told a New York City courtroom that he and other Algerian emigres had considered attacking an unspecified “neighborhood in Canada where there was an Israeli interest.”
Ressam was caught smuggling explosives over the Canada-U.S. border in 1999 and subsequently was convicted of involvement in a millennial plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport. He testified in July at the trial of Mokhtar Haouari, who was convicted of terrorist activities in connection with the same plot.
Some suspected terrorists living in Canada have attempted to wreak havoc in other countries.
Fateh Kamel recently was convicted of terrorist activities in Paris, and Mustapha Labsi is being held in London on terrorist-related charges. Both are formerly of Montreal.
Two Vancouver men also have been charged in the United States with shipping weapons to Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terror organization.
Last week, intelligence officials arrested suspected terrorist Mahmoud Jaballah, who had spent 10 months in a Canadian jail before a judge dismissed charges against him. He is back behind bars because he is still considered a threat to national security, an immigration department spokesperson said.
While such moves offer encouragement to those who hope to weed out domestic terrorist fronts, the same parties are troubled when Canada extends a hand in friendship, as it recently did to Libya, a country considered a sponsor of terrorism.
Canada recently opened diplomatic relations with Libya, promised to open an embassy in Tripoli, and has encouraged Canadian businessmen to invest in the North African nation.
“Libya is still a country that has been a state sponsor of terrorism, and we see no reason why Canada has been embracing this country,” Landy said. “It sends out the wrong signal.”