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Canadian Terrorist Threat Assessment Needed in Wake of Danforth Shooting

What Canadians need now is for the Federal government to stand up, be candid, and give Canadian residents a realistic assessment of the terrorist threat to Canadian national security and whether there is a link between the Danforth attack and the CN Tower threat.

There appears to be a great deal of chatter in Ottawa this week within the security and intelligence services asto what happened in Sunday night’s shooting attack on Toronto’s Danforth restaurant district that left two young femalesdead and 13 other innocent Canadians wounded. The shooter Faisal Hussein also died from a reportedly self-inflicted wound at the scene of the attack.  In the Privy Council Office, and more importantly, the Prime Minister’s Office, there exists a thirst for information to craft speaking points for Ministers and the Prime Minister as they attempt to explain away the obvious: Toronto suffered a well-planned and executed attack on a soft target.  Very sadly, a beloved restaurant district was turned into a killing ground by a lone individual, or so it appears.

We know that Toronto police were in a heightened state of readiness. We know that Hussein, the shooter, was known to the RCMP, OPP, and Toronto Police and that he reportedly had issues in the past but otherwise would be described as a “clean skin” in intelligence circles. There are reported ties in the media between the shooter and members of his family in terms of criminal activity. We know from other cases that there is a considerable nexus between criminal activity and Islamic State (ISIS) related terrorism and self-radicalized lone wolves. It seems that the Canadian born Hussein travelled abroad to Pakistan and Afghanistan for unstated reasons and may have lived there for a period.

Additionally, Hussein was well-armed with a tightly regulated semi-automatic handgun for the assault and carried several magazines for rapid reloading. Hussein’s weapon handling skills, stance, and zig-zag movements as he moved down the strip shooting his victims, appears as if he had formal training. He was dressed in dark clothes for night operations.Since both handgun ownership and ammunition purchase are very tightly controlled by governments in Canada, one may wonder how and where a person with reported mental health issues was able to acquire such items.Reports suggest that Hussein had pro-ISIS leanings, and ISIS itself has claimed credit for the attack through its own media outlet suggesting that Hussein was a self-radicalized soldier of the Islamic State.  The family and friends say Hussein suffered from mental illness in a rapid, well-timed, carefully distributed and crafted statement. It is well-known that ISIS, often claims credit without foundation, but prepares its actual “soldiers” carefully for such attacks. ISIS also preys on mentally unstable people. Terrorist motivation is terrorist motivation, mentally unstable or not. There are reports that there was an attempt to scrub his social media activity which begs another series of unanswered questions.

What we as Canadians do not know is whether this individual was trained as a jihadi, acted on his own or was part of a larger cell, what he did and who he interacted with in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, given all the reported police interest and interaction with Hussein and members of his family, we really do not know how he got through or gamed the system to carry out this mass casualty attack on Canadian soil. Was he on a Canadian terrorism watch list or was he on any of our allies’ watchlists?

We also do not know whether Hussein was linked to the recent vehicle threat to the area around the CN Tower and Rogers Center that sparked a police-alert in central Toronto a week ago and physical security measures to mitigate the effects of a vehicle ramming attack and/or bomb attack.  The police alert was in relation to what police described as an “unconfirmed and uncorroborated piece of information.” Rumor in Canadian security circles suggests that there were three separate pieces of information and that one was from a foreign source suggesting a threat to the area around the CN Tower.

At the end of the day, Toronto suffered a well-orchestrated and executed attack on its citizens. We must move to stop or mitigate such threats, notwithstanding that there remains a lot of unanswered questions. We are reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s sober warning to the House of Commons on November 12, 1936, about the “gathering storm” of the Second World War when he cautioned, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” We as a country need to be open and honest with ourselves, take the threat seriously, and move forward with necessary measures to defeat terrorism and uphold the rule of law before the next potential terror attack on Canadian soil.

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Joseph Varner
Joseph Varner is a former Director of Policy to the Minister of National Defence, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, a Professor in Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University, and a CDAI Research Fellow.