Canada: The Cell Next Door


Canada: Immigration, Security and the War on Terror

By Heather Smith

Canada, like the United States, is a nation of immigrants. But the relationship between immigrants and the state is a lot more like it is in Europe, says Chris Sands, project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "Canada doesn't put as much pressure on its immigrants to assimilate, so they tend to cluster together in cities." While immigrants to Canada can settle anywhere in the country, more than half of Canadian Muslims live in the city of Toronto, and the rest in Montreal and Vancouver.

The number of people in Canada who identified themselves as Muslim more than doubled between 1991 and 2001 -- from 253,300 in 1991 to 579,600 in 2001. Despite the doubling, Canadian Muslims represent only 2 percent of the general population, according to the latest census figures. Still, Muslims made up 15 percent of the 1.8 million new immigrants who arrived in the 1990s, making them the fastest-growing religious group in Canada.

The Muslim Diaspora

Until the 1970s, most immigrants to Canada were of European origin. Muslims didn't begin immigrating to Canada in large numbers until the 1980s. Muslim migration to the United States, however, began to swell at least a generation earlier, which created a well-established Muslim society there. In 1950s Detroit, for example, auto magnate Henry Ford II made a policy of importing workers from Palestine. When the Eisenhower administration collaborated with Great Britain to overthrow the government of Iran in 1953, the United States absorbed refugees from the resulting conflict.

Canadian Muslims, on the other hand, are more likely to have emigrated from Pakistan (because of its former status as part of the British commonwealth) as well as from French-speaking Algeria and Lebanon (the province of Quebec encourages migrants from Francophone countries.)

Muslims in Canada are younger, on average, than the rest of the Canadian population, and they make significantly less money. But, as Sands points out, Canada is a growing economy, unlike Britain. "That's good for national security, because high unemployment, especially among young men, is always trouble." Despite the general stability in the country, the unemployment rate for Canadian Muslims hovers around 14 percent, according to the latest figures available from the 2001 census -- almost double the national average.

Olivier Roy, former consultant for the United Nations in Afghanistan and the author of Globalized Islam: the Search for a New Ummah, paints the life of Muslim immigrants in unequivocal terms. "The first generation is usually a generation of losers," Roy says. "They take the worst jobs, work hard, and try to stay out of everyone's way." It is the second generation, Roy suggests, that often becomes radicalized. "If their parents are not successful, they often look for a new identity, outside the family. They are discriminated against for their race, and they become angry. They acquire new religiosity quickly, without assessing it."

North American Security and the Terrorist Threat

In 1997, police burst into a Brooklyn apartment to find a Canadian man named Gazi Ibrahim Abu Maizar struggling to light a pipe bomb. It was later revealed that Maizar had been denied residence in the United States back in the early '90s but sought, and was given, refugee status in Canada. Maizar had traveled to New York, he later confessed, to bomb its subway. He said he wanted to punish America for its support of Israel. In 1999, an Algerian named Ahmed Ressam, also a Canadian resident, was caught trying to smuggle bomb-making materials into the United States. Most recently, in June of last year, several Canadian Muslims were arrested for conspiring with two young men in Atlanta, Georgia, to blow up several buildings in downtown Toronto, a case that prompted U.S. Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King to declare the existence of "a disproportionate number of al Qaeda in Canada, because of their very liberal immigration laws."

But Debra Meyers, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, says the Canadian government began adopting stricter immigration and deportation laws even before 9/11. This tightening began in response to a Supreme Court ruling in 1985 that made applications for asylum much easier -- to the extent that the number of asylum seekers more than doubled and continued to rise dramatically. The increase in those being granted asylum caused a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in Canada, and immigration laws began to change in 1987.

"When I first started practicing law, my clients would almost never get deported," says Canadian immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman. "Now, it happens all the time. And not just for committing criminal acts. People get deported for minor violations now, like overstaying their visa."

Both Meyers and Sands describe Canada as "extremely cooperative" with its southern neighbor on security issues. After September 11, Canada revised its passport application criteria (an old loophole had made it possible to get a passport using easily forged baptism certificates), placed more guards on the border, and restructured the agencies that dealt with border security and immigration.

Canada, like the United States, has also imprisoned people suspected of terrorist connections without access to a trial or a chance to view or refute the evidence brought against them. But while the United States has detained well over 700 people (including one Canadian, Omar Khadr), Canada has detained only five. Lower Canadian courts have affirmed the right of Canada to suspend habeas corpus, but a Supreme Court case brought by the five detainees (two of whom are now out on bail, under restrictive conditions) is still pending. Britain also detained several Muslim men without trial as part of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act, but the House of Lords decided that the law violated human rights and discontinued the practice more than two years ago.

At times, Canadians worry that their country's cooperation with the United States has gone too far. In 2002, a Syrian/Canadian man named Maher Arar was arrested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as he was about to catch a connecting flight at JFK International Airport. As it turned out, Arar was detained because of a tip passed along by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, claiming that Arar might be an al Qaeda operative. The tip turned out to be false, but the United States had already deported Arar, without a trial, to Syria. He was imprisoned and tortured there for almost a year.

In 2004, a public inquiry into the case revealed that the criminal database that led to Arar's arrest at JFK was maintained by a patchwork of Canadian law enforcement agencies, all of which could enter information into it without formal approval. Ultimately, the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was forced to resign, and Arar received a formal apology from Parliament.

The Department of Homeland Security, however, has yet to remove Arar from its terror watch list. Nor has it informed Canada of its reasons for keeping him there. "In an ideal world we would share every bit of intelligence," DHS Secretary Paul Rosenzweig told reporters recently at a press conference in Washington, D.C. "In the real world that isn't achievable."

To Olivier Roy, fighting a radical, globalized Islamic fundamentalism with surveillance, imprisonment and fingerprint telemetry is ultimately a lost cause. "It's hard to do preventive action when young people radicalize so quickly," he says, citing the example of Adam Gadahn, who drifted from a Christian childhood in rural Oregon into a new life in Pakistan as a spokesperson for al Qaeda.

Instead, Roy believes people need to focus more on isolating groups like al Qaeda from mainstream Muslim society that they are using as camouflage.

"There is no such thing as a `Muslim community,'" Roy says. "We have a population of Muslim origin. They decide what it means to be a Muslim in a hundred different ways."


SOURCES: Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, by Olvier Roy; CBC; 2001 Canadian Census; The Canada Institute; Center for Strategic and International Studies; U.S. Department of Homeland Security.




Islamic Fundamentalism - Who's Who

By Rob Krieger

Since 2001, terrorist groups like al Qaeda and its founder, Osama bin Laden, have become household names. Highlighted briefly below are some of the major Islamic fundamentalist organizations whose attacks and influence have been increasingly felt from the Middle East to Pakistan to East Africa.

Al Qaeda

The most well known and widespread Islamic jihadi group, al Qaeda, or "the base," was established by Osama bin Laden, whose first mentor was Dr. Abdullah Azzam, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a one-time leader of Hamas. Bin Laden fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s as a member of the mujahadeen, or "strugglers," which had the same linguistic root and goals as the present jihad ("struggle"). It was there that bin Laden formed the basic aims of al Qaeda -- the expulsion of Western, or non-Muslim, influence in the Muslim world; and the reinstatement of a caliph such as existed from the time of Mohammed, when a centralized Muslim government ruled from its capital in Medina.

The United States and up to 65 other countries have experienced terrorist activities sponsored, carried out or influenced by al Qaeda members. The best known are the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001; the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2003; and the London transport bombings on July 7, 2005.

Islamic Jihad

Islamic jihad is a term used to describe the often-militant call to action of Islamic fundamentalists across the Muslim world. It also refers to specific jihad movements in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Syria. When talked of in the United States, Islamic Jihad is often used specifically in reference to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The PIJ, designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government, was formed in the Gaza Strip in the early 1970s by a member of the Egyptian Jihad and is currently headed by Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah, presumed to be living in Damascus, Syria. The PIJ is thought to be funded at least partially by the Shiite group Hezbollah, and its goal is to wage war against Israel and Jews.

The Egyptian Islamic Jihad, whose goal is to overthrow the Egyptian government and end Western involvement in the Middle East, was founded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command. Zawahiri has served as both doctor and advisor to al Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden.


Hamas, or "Islamic Resistance Movement," was created in Gaza City, Gaza, in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin. The initial goal of Hamas was the destruction of Israel, the West Bank and areas controlled by Israel in Gaza, and the establishment of a Palestinian state in its place. It began during the first intifada, the 1987-to-1990 conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that was marked by suicide bombings and was responsible for the first bus bombings in Tel Aviv. After the death of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections in Gaza and other Palestinian regions. Since then, a third intifada has been threatened, and internal fighting has continued between Hamas and the second-leading, more secular political party, Fatah.

Watch an in-depth FRONTLINE/World report on Hamas >

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades

Started by members of Fatah, the last Palestinian ruling party headed by Yasser Arafat, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades has been independent since 2000 and continues to call for a Palestinian nation-state. The group, which exists as a set of cells, is known for its suicide bombing missions in Israel and has targeted mostly civilians, injuring 31 and killing 18 in 117 attacks.


Hezbollah, or "Party of God," was established in Lebanon in 1985, by Sheikh Ibrahim al-Amin. It was after Israel's invasion in 1982 that al-Amin declared the group's main tenets: destruction of Israel, an Islamic state in Lebanon, and the abolishment of Western ideas and control. Before 1999, Hezbollah's security wing, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries, took part in many suicide bombings. Today, the group is considered legitimate by most Arab countries but continues to promote the destruction of Israel, Jews, and American and Western ideals.

Read an in-depth profile of Hezbollah >


The JEM, or "Army of Mohammed," was formed in 1994 in Pakistan but was not launched until 2000, by Maulana Masood Azhar. JeM operates mostly in Jammu and Kashmir against India but is also widely known for its involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole and, most recently, for its attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. Its chief goal is to take control of Kashmir and, if possible, take over many of India's northeastern cities.

Ansar al-Sunna

Ansar al-Sunna, otherwise known as "Protectors of the Sunna" (Sunni Arabs), is an Islamic fundamentalist and jihadi group that operates in Iraq and shares members with other major groups in Iraq -- including followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Baath Party, Ansar al-Islam and al Qaeda. Since its official formation in 2003, Ansar al-Sunna members have taken part in suicide bombings, kidnappings and armed attacks, especially on police targets. The main goal of Ansar al-Sunna and its allies in Iraq is the destruction and withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces. The group would also like to establish an Islamic state based on sharia law -- or strict adherence to specific, but varying, laws prescribed in the Koran.


SOURCES: MSNBC; SITE Institute; BBC; Middle East Media Research Institute; Council on Foreign Relations; C-Span; Undermining Terrorism (Harvard University J. F. Kennedy School of Government


Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America
By Yossef Bodansky

Published just days after al Qaeda's September 11th attacks in the United States, Bodansky's book is less a biography and more a social history and economic study that sets out to understand Osama bin Laden's influence on Muslim extremism around the world. Included is a vast timeline of the events and characters that pass through the life of al Qaeda's founder.

American Jihad
By Steve Emerson

Emerson's extensive account of the growth and evolution of jihad in America is based on decades of research and firsthand reporting. American Jihad looks closely at how U.S. policy has allowed fundamentalists from abroad to define their goals and spread their message. Emerson, at one time offered federal protection due to threats, uncovers specific instances of domestic recruitment by foreign jihadis across the United States.

Understanding Terror Networks
By Marc Sageman

Published six months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Understanding Terror Networks says that the insurgency that had already taken hold in Iraq would be a part, but not the major source, of jihad in the world. For this latter role, Sageman points to the network that has been growing in Pakistan and Kashmir over the past decade. Sageman uses a theoretical diagram based on hubs to describe the nature of information and networking in Islamic fundamentalist groups or, as he terms them, Salafist cells.

"Azzam the American:The making of an Al Qaeda Homegrown"
By Raffi Khatchadourian

Read the Article >

In his January article, "The making of an Al Qaeda Homegrown," in The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian discusses the phenomenon of "homegrown" terrorism in the United States. He profiles Adam Gadahn, who was raised in California but is now the media director for al Qaeda and has made appearances worldwide in al Qaeda videos. Khatchadourian cites other well-known examples of homegrown terrorists, such as Britain's Richard Reid and John Walker Lindh, who, like Gadahn, grew up in California.

CBC:Little Mosque on the Prairie

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Premiering on CBC, January 11, 2007, Little Mosque on the Prairie is a new comedy series about a small Muslim community in a Canadian prairie town. Little Mosque was written and produced by Zarqa Nawaz, the 39-year-old filmmaker originally from Liverpool, England, who lived in Toronto while working for CBC Radio. Nawaz moved to the prairie city of Regina, Saskatchewan, about 10 years ago. The show, which highlights the humorous side of a Muslim family's generational issues, religion and love in their prairie town is clearly created from Nawaz's personal experiences. The show has already attracted a lot of publicity and is proving popular with Canadian audiences.

From the FRONTLINE Files

Al Qaeda's New Front

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In January 2005, FRONTLINE, in association with The New York Times and the CBC, broadcast Al Qaeda's New Front. The series and its complementary Web site highlighted the most recent threat of jihad movements in the Western world. Online features include "Al Queda Today: The New Face of Global Jihad," an interactive map of Europe's jihadi Web sites, useful related links and streaming video of the broadcast.

The Enemy Within

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FRONTLINE presents an in-depth look at the case of two Lodi, California, imams and their connection to al Qaeda. The corresponding Web site features an exhaustive analysis of the case and the reasons why there have not been any attacks since 9/11. The full broadcast is also available on the site.

Target America

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Target America is FRONTLINE's fall 2001 response to the attacks of September 11. The Web site provides the original broadcast, a comprehensive timeline of domestic terrorism and U.S. responses from 1979 to 1988, and a host of inside reports from some of the major players to emerge after September 11, including L. Paul Bremer, the then-chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism.

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