Canada: The Cell Next Door

Timeline Terror Plots on North American Soil

Since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, a number of terrorist attacks have been carried out on North American soil by Islamic fundamentalists and a few, notably in Europe, have been foiled. This timeline, starting in 1993, highlights a few of the major events and tracks the players, motives and some of the political and economic costs.

By Rob Krieger

World Trade Center Bombing

New York, New York
February 26, 1993

The 500-kilogram car bomb that exploded in the basement level of the World Trade Center killed six people and injured thousands. When the dust settled, the FBI arrested and convicted three Islamic militants, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Mohammed Salameh and Mahmud Abouhalima. Each is serving the maximum 240-year prison term. According to a letter in The New York Times, the plot was carried out in order to persuade the United States to end its "interference" in the Middle East and cut ties with Israel.

Yousef's group, the Liberation Army Fifth Battalion, had connections to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda and received funding from his uncle, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an important al Qaeda planner who played a part in the airline hijackings on September 11, 2001. This first Trade Center bombing foreshadowed September 11-- approximately 55,000 workers fleeing the building faced many of the same obstacles faced by workers in 2001. Evacuation plans were said to have completely failed. Although it was publicly known in advance that Yousef's goal was to knock the towers down, only roadblocks and guards were placed in and around Wall Street buildings as a precautionary measure.







The Port Angeles U.S.-Canadian Border Arrest

Port Angeles, Washington
December 14, 1999

Ahmed Ressam

Ahmed Ressam

A 22-year-old Algerian was arrested by customs police at the U.S.-Canadian border when he tried to smuggle in a homemade bomb destined for an attack on Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve. Ahmed Ressam, who would later be referred to as the "Millennium Bomber," was charged and convicted and sentenced to a 22-year term in 2005. However, the case was sent back to the lower court for review in early 2007.

Ressam has become well-known for his help in identifying al Qaeda members. In 1998, he visited Afghanistan and trained at one of Osama bin Laden's camps. There he met Zacarias Moussaoui, the September 11th "replacement hijacker," whom Ressam told investigators he recognized before Moussaoui's conviction and eventual life sentence. Ressam also released information about Abu Zubaydah, once presumed to be a top al Qaeda aide and who has been called a "travel agent for terrorist wannabees." Zubaydah is now in U.S. custody and has been sentenced to death. Ressam, who told investigators upon his arrest that he knew of "sleeper cells" in the United States, was also reportedly cited in the now-infamous Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, called "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

As a result of the millennium plot and 9/11, Congress has tried to find ways to strengthen border security. The REAL ID Act, passed in May 2005, has increased the requirements to obtain a state driver's license. By the time the process is complete in 2008, it will also link license lookup through a federally controlled, 50-state database. Although improvements have been made, as of August 2006 only 2,000 additional officers have been added to the 6,000 miles of border between the United States, Canada and Mexico. And according to the RAND Corporation, "400,000 individuals in the United States are living here in violation of lawful deportation orders." There are also still major lapses in commercial shipping on passenger airplanes and the cost and effectiveness of port screening.







New York, New York; Arlington, Virginia; Shanksville, Pennsylvania
September 11, 2001

World Trade Center on fire

World Trade Center after the initial impact

Now known simply as 9/11, September 11, 2001, is often thought of in the same way as other days of infamy in U.S. history, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of 9/11, four planes departing for California were hijacked by members of the Islamic fundamentalist group al Qaeda.

Nineteen al Qaeda hijackers, from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon, flew a plane into each of the World Trade Center's two towers in Manhattan, one into the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, and another into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after an onboard struggle brought the plane down before it could hit its intended target, the U.S. Capitol.

Although an August report highlighted the intentions of al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor at the time, said in the days following, "No one could have predicted that hijackers would try to use an airplane as a missile."

In the days and months that followed, New York City responded with bridge closings, checkpoints at entrance and exit points to the island, random subway searches, and an increased presence of armed guards and public and private cameras for enforcement purposes.

Since 9/11, government control of information and personal rights has changed in many ways. The 2002 formation of the $36.5billion U.S. Department of Homeland Security has improved the sharing of CIA and FBI information, despite many of its notable spending misuses, security gaps and unattained benchmarks. Since the establishment of the U.S. Patriot Act in 2001, the government has been able to obtain personal information, arguably protected by the Constitution. The Patriot Act, created to "deter and punish terrorist acts," has led the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups to make a strong case for citizens' right to be free from arbitrary interference. And on November 13, 2001, President Bush used the Presidential Military Order to hold citizens and noncitizens indefinitely, putting into question habeas corpus, or the right to respond to charges.




Post-9/11 Anthrax Attacks

New York, New York; Washington, D.C.; Boca Raton, Florida
September 18, 2001

One week after the September 11th attacks, five U.S. news offices, located in New York City and Boca Raton, Florida, received letters containing the lethal powder form of the anthrax bacteria. Three weeks later, two other letters were sent, to senators in Washington, D.C.-- Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. In all, five people were killed and 17 others became ill. Positive tests on a mailbox in Princeton, New Jersey, led investigators to believe that they found the place of origin. Each of the letters concluded with the phrase "Death to America/Death to Israel/Allah is great."

At the time, with the country still reeling from the September 11th attacks just seven days before, the letters created around-the-clock media coverage and heightened the already-high atmosphere of tension nationwide.

The September 11th attacks and the anthrax letters a week later proved to be costly. According to the FBI, the cleanup for the estimated 17 affected facilities cost approximately $1billion and took two to five years to complete. The attacks were also instrumental in guiding U.S. government policy, including the aforementioned formation of the Department of Homeland Security and the passage of the Patriot Act as well as funding for Project Bioshield, which is receiving $5.6billion over 10years, and for research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which added $1.5billion to its budget in 2003.







The Shoe Bomber

Paris, France, and Miami, Florida
December 22, 2001

During a flight from Paris to Miami, 24-year-old Richard Reid, now known as the "Shoe Bomber," attempted to set off an explosive device, but was thwarted by flight attendants and passengers. Reid, a British citizen who spent many of his early years in prison and converted to Islam while incarcerated, is now serving a life sentence in the United States. In October 2002, Reid pled guilty and said: "I support bin Laden ... I am an enemy of the United States." According to another captured al Qaeda source, Reid was directed to carry out the attack by the Pakistani member of al Qaeda whom the 9/11 Commission Report called the "principle architect of the 9/11 attacks."

Today, some call into question how it is possible to guarantee safety when, as The New York Times reporter Douglas Jehl said in mid-2004, terrorists' "targets are limitless, America's defenses limited." Since Reid's attempted attack, airplane passengers are required to participate in an increasing number of searches and procedures. The first direct post-Reid measure was the Transportation Security Administration's 2002 requirement that passengers remove their shoes if asked. By mid-2003, this became a requirement for all passengers. Since then, travelers have had to reveal electronic devices such as computers and can carry no more than two to four ounces of liquid. And as of January 23, 2007, U.S. travelers must show a passport when reentering from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.







The Brooklyn Bridge Plot

May 1, 2003
New York, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Iyman Faris, a Kashmiri who arguably had ties to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda "architect of the 9/11 attacks," was arrested on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and derail a train in Washington, D.C. After his arrest, Faris served as a double agent for the FBI and helped to uncover information about Sheikh Mohammed and others. On October 28, 2003, Faris was convicted and is currently serving a 20-year sentence.

Faris's case brings to light the success of the NSA's program of eavesdropping and warrantless surveillance, which was ruled unconstitutional in the August 2006 ACLU v. NSA case. According to officials, the NSA program was instrumental in the revelation of Faris's activities and other cases. The ACLU argued that the Constitution implies a warrant is necessary for the tapping of certain personal information that the U.S. government has been obtaining illegally since 9/11.







The Toronto Bomb Plot

June 2 and 3, 2006
Mississauga, Toronto (Ontario, Canada)

Toronto press conference

Toronto Police, CSIS and INSET display ammonium nitrate seized from an alleged homegrown jihadi movement.

Eighteen mostly young Muslim men were arrested at their homes in the suburbs of Toronto after an undercover member of their community alerted authorities of alleged plans to bomb the Canadian Parliament, take hostages and storm the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation office.  After the arrests, the so-called mole, Mubin Shaikh, revealed that the suspects were inspired by al Qaeda and wanted to take action because of their anger about Canadian and Western involvement in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. "For many of them, they think that Canada, their own country, has declared war on them or their people," said Hussein Hamdani, a member of the Ihya Foundation, a group that works with young Muslims in Toronto.

On December 18, 2001, the Canadian Parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, and in April 2002, it established the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), which brought immigration and local enforcement together under one roof.

As a result of collaboration among Shaikh, more than 400 police officers in Toronto, officials from INSET and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (Canada's civilian spy agency), the 17 suspects were arrested. To date, this is the largest and most complex example of homegrown Canadian jihadi movements.







The Transatlantic Airplane Bomb Plot

August 10, 2006
London, England

On the night of August 9, 2006, the first 11 of 24 suspects were arrested in a major foiling of a plot to blow up as many as 10 airplanes on their way from the United Kingdom to various destinations in the United States.

There has been varied skepticism about the connection of the suspects to any officially recognized "foreign terrorist organizations" as established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani descent, has been accused of being the ringleader, but charges against him were dropped by a Pakistani judge in late 2006.

The plot had many economic effects and resulted in delays, hundreds of thousands of misplaced bags, and the institution of airline security measures, including the prohibition of more than four ounces of liquid.







SOURCES: Federation of American Scientists; Amnesty USA; Harvard University Kennedy School of Government; C-SPAN; Mackenzie Institute; White House; Manhattan Institute; London Observer; CBC; MSNBC; Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT); Terrorism Knowledge Base.

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