Canada faces 'jihad generation'
All 17 people arrested lived in Canada; all but two were under age 26.
Canadians are struggling to understand the threat of "home-grown" terrorism after the arrest of 17 Toronto-area young men in connection with what investigators said were plans to commit massive terrorist attacks in Canada.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The suspects all lived in Canada at the time of arrest; many are longtime residents and citizens. Like the perpetrators of last summer's London bombings, these young Muslims apparently became radicalized not in Al Qaeda training camps abroad but in suburban neighborhoods where they led relatively unremarkable lives.
Such home-grown terrorism is a growing concern, says security analyst John Thompson.
"The cops have a nickname for it - the jihad generation," says Mr. Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto think tank.
"These are kids at a transition, between Islamic society and Western society," he adds. "A lot of people will get militarized if they're unsure of their own identity." Plus, Thompson says, "They're just young and stupid. If you're 17, bored, restless, you want to meet girls - hey, be a radical."
Five juveniles were among the 17 males arrested Friday night and early Sunday morning on terrorism charges related to planned attacks with explosives on Canadian targets. The group allegedly bought three tons of ammonium nitrate - 1-1/2 times the estimated amount used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 - according to Assistant Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Mike McDonell. Investigators says that the group was inspired by Al Qaeda, but that there is no evidence of a direct link to the organization.
"These individuals were allegedly intent on committing acts of terrorism against their own country and their own people," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. "As we have said on many occasions, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism."
But here in Toronto, a city of 2.5 million people that prides itself on its multiculturalism and tolerance, the arrests came as a shock to many.
"That's really disturbing, to think it was a Canadian citizen. How is that for a low blow? It's 'Hello Toronto, wake up,'" says the neighbor of one of the suspects, 25-year-old Steven Vikash Chand. She asked not to be named, fearing repercussions from friends of the arrested man.
Another neighbor, Jack Lovell, says nothing about Chand set off alarm bells on the quiet, suburban street. "I knew him enough to say hi, [and] wave," Mr. Lovell says. "Seemed like nice enough people."
A 2005 Canadian government report on the homegrown terror threat, declassified and obtained by the National Post newspaper under Canada's Access to Information Act, described the paths to radicalism taken by Canadian youth: "
The reasons for this are varied, and include parental influence, the efforts of charismatic spiritual leaders with extremist views, and a general sense of anger at what is seen as Muslim oppression. There does not appear to be a single process that leads to extremism the transformation is highly individual."