Latest terror threats 'scare us': senior Mountie

Detailed plots to harm Canadians 'keep me awake at night'

The RCMP is investigating seven suspected terrorist plots so disturbing they "keep me awake at night," the senior Mountie for national security disclosed yesterday.

Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell said the cases are "spread right across the country" and each is comparable in scale to Canada's biggest alleged jihadist conspiracy, which resulted in the arrests of 18 Toronto-area people in a suspected plot to bomb federal buildings in 2006.

The seven cases are among an unprecedented 848 national security cases, most related to terrorism, currently under investigation, Assistant Commissioner McDonell told an Ottawa conference on critical infrastructure protection.

"What we're onto scares us," he said in a later interview, without elaborating. "What we're not onto really scares us."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the RCMP's national security criminal investigation section's caseload has grown 780 per cent, with the $40-million-a-year section "borrowing people from here, there and everywhere, there's just that much work out there," he said. "It's a no-risk environment. Our people are running at the limit."

His comments are the most detailed and candid yet from police on the threat confronting Canada.

"What we're facing is a violent Islamist born-again social movement," comprised mostly of young, second- or third-generation immigrants with a secular background, he told the Conference Board of Canada gathering of security, industry and government experts.

With no direct links to the al-Qaeda terror network, they are rarely in organized terror cells, but rather members of amorphous cliques and clusters of lower middle-class or lower-class men, average age 20, who feel discriminated against and excluded from society.

"I look at them as terrorist wannabes," said Assistant Commissioner McDonell. "Being a wannabe does not make them any less dangerous; in fact, I would argue it makes them more dangerous. Not ideologically motivated, they are emotionally motivated, motivated by images: rapes, murders, arrests creating moral outrage.

"This all adds up to making them extremely difficult to identify and their behaviours difficult to predict. And in my experience, the realization that they have been identified and that we're onto them, only emboldens and legitimizes them. That doesn't slow them down."

The huge caseload is partly the result of an evolution in counter-terrorism law enforcement since 9/11, he said: "We know more now, we're getting better at identifying more, our investigators are getting better."

The RCMP's improving relationship with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is partly responsible, too, he said.

"It's like a marriage where we're working our way through stuff, but we're going forward. So we're in (investigating potential terrorism) much earlier and collecting evidence and working towards disruption."

Assistant Commissioner McDonell used his speech to fire back at many in the media and others who criticized the RCMP's work on the "Toronto 18" case after four more suspects had charges against them stayed recently, leaving one youth and 10 adults to be tried out of the original 18 suspects.

Given the nature of terrorism and especially suicide terrorists, it's essential that police act before a strike is committed, he said. As the Toronto case and others have shown, that can be a risky prosecution strategy if insufficient evidence has been gathered at the time of arrest.

By Ian MacLeod, The Ottawa Citizen

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