Friday, July 08, 2005

Of Course It Could Happen Here

I haven't wanted to post on the London bombings of yesterday, mainly because a lot of bloggers have already jumped on it. But I do want to highlight a point that yes, it could happen in Canada. For example, this story from Adrian Humphreys of the National Post:

"Human targets sorted by level of importance," reads a list in the al-Battar Military Manual, a training manual masterminded by Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda's most senior leaders, and distributed to supporters over the Internet.

Jewish targets top the list. Then, in a separate category called "the Christians," the manual states: "The grades of importance are as follows: 1. Americans, 2. British, 3. Spaniards, 4. Australians, 5. Canadians, 6. Italians."

With yesterday's attack, the first four countries on the list have all been targeted.

Of course, the question will come up: why would Canada be next? The TTC Chairman phrased a version of this in what is probably the leading candidate for dumb statement of the year:

TTC Chairman Howard Moscoe wondered " if the terrorists first would have to find where Toronto is before they attacked it. Canada is not as vulnerable as the U.S. or Britain or Spain. We don't have any troops to pull out of Iraq."

Paul Denton has suggested that part of the reason may be ideological:

Canada - like every other nation on that list - would be a target for Islamist terrorists regardless of any current geopolitical machinations. The tipoff to that should be in exactly what the list is called: "The Christians." (And as a corollary, the higher-priority list of targets for mass murder being entirely Jewish.) No one content to plot killing hundreds or thousands based upon mere religion cares that Canada is perpetually in opposition to US foreign policy; frankly, we all look the same to them, as nations composed largely of infidel Christians or infidel secularists.

I think, though, there are more pragmatic reasons to attack Canada:

1) We have troops in Afghanistan in support of a government that terrorists want to undermine
2) We sponsor aid programs that could potentially undermine Islamicist authority and thus disrupt a culture perfect for breeding terrorists
3) We form a significant part of an international economy whose disruption could only benefit terrorism
4) We ship oil into the U.S.; disruption of this would undermine U.S. efforts in the War on Terror
5) We have multiple points of entry into the U.S.; any terrorist incident here could create a diversion of resources to make it easier to slip assets across the border for a major terrorist operation there

Of these reasons, the last one is probably the most important from an immediate, practical standpoint. Judging from comments to Angry's post on this subject, people are having a very hard time believing that Canada would be the target of terrorist rage. The trouble, of course, is that this is the viewpoint of complacency -- and for terrorists, the complacent are the most vulnerable. Canada may not be a world leader anymore, but that doesn't make us less of a target.

The questions people should be asking, though, is not just why it would happen, but where and how.

In terms of where, while terrorism can happen anywhere, some places are more ripe for it than others. Montreal, for example, would be a ripe target because:

-- at least two international agencies have headquarters there, meaning a terrorist incident would have international implications
-- it's a stronghold for organized crime, according to the RCMP (meaning getting weapons or explosives via non-controlled means would be easier)
-- it has a subway system and more international flight traffic, meaning bigger targets to make a splash in the media

That last reason applies to Toronto, as well, and Toronto has a larger Muslim population that an al-Qaeda operative could disappear into. And since Toronto's financial district plays a major role in the international sector, a car bomb on Bay Street could have some serious effects.

Is Ottawa vulnerable? Certainly. Targets would include the Parliament Buildings, DFAIT, the U.S. Embassy and DND. And they're all within walking distance with each other; if a terrorist were to destroy the Mackenzie King bridge, he or she would create enough panic and confusion to disrupt the activities of ALL these places.

No doubt this has already occurred to the agencies under Anne McLellan. But for Canada to be fully engaged in the War on Terror it needs to occur to the rest of us, as well.