In practically every country, including Canada, there are local citizens who are identified as extremists by the government. These extremists, at the very least, sympathize with the views and activities of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS).
Some of them actually participate in real acts of terrorism.
According to government-released documents, there are around 200 international extremists, including Canadian citizens, who have direct links to Canada and are thus being closely monitored.
Most of them are now abroad in places such as Syria, Iraq, and certain parts of the Middle East and Asia where most jihadists and terrorists are based. About 60 of them have returned to Canada and stayed. Over the years, these numbers have remained more or less stable, because the authorities have restricted the travel to and from the country of these extremists. However, it appears that restricting the movement of extremists is not an effective deterrent to terrorism.
Extremists are now using a new tactic to carry out terroristic activities, apparently in compliance to an al-Qaeda leader’s instruction to “Do your own terrorism and stay in place.”
Local extremists usually become exposed to terrorist ideology through the Internet.
Jihadist leaders have a sophisticated online propaganda with a worldwide reach. Through this, they preach their ideology, encourage intolerance, justify attacks on innocent people, and boast about their victories and achievements. It is also through this that they are able to recruit new members in different parts of the world, and provide encrypted instructions on how these members can carry out attacks on their own.
The strategy now encouraged by extremists for terrorist activities is the use of “low-sophistication, high-impact” methods. These include the use of knives and vehicles by just one person to kill a large number of targets. The person carrying out the attack usually does not need any prior training or experience, and the modest resources he needs are well within his reach. This “lone-wolf terrorist” also does not need to be actually working within a specific political or ideological group. He can just be anybody who has been brainwashed by extremist ideology.
We have seen many examples lately of this kind of terrorist activity. In September 2017, a lone attacker with suspected affiliation to IS, the international terror group, stabbed a policeman and rammed down four pedestrians in Edmonton, Alberta. Just one month later, another lone attacker, this time in Manhattan, New York, drove down a bike path and collided with a bus, killing eight persons and injuring many others. This attacker also has links with the Islamic State.
This new tactic is yet another challenge that counter-terrorism forces in the government have to address.