It’s believed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is tracking up to 80 Canadians it suspects of having travelled abroad to engage in terrorist activities.
CSIS says some engaged in paramilitary activities, while others attended extremist Islamic schools, others may have been involved in logistical or fund-raising support, and some simply never made a connection and have returned.
Security agencies are concerned that any or all of the group could be returning more radicalized than when they left. Some may have learned potentially dangerous new skills which they could teach to others. This would include such things as bomb-making as an example.
A CSIS spokesperson said the agency. “is aware of Canadians who have returned to Canada after having been abroad for terrorist purposes,” adding that the agency, “actively investigates such individuals and is coordinating with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in order to keep Canadians safe.”
A former senior intelligence officer with CSIS, Michel Juneau-Katsuya said that the 80 individuals have to be considered “very high risk” and are likely being closely watched.
The RCMP in response to reporter requests, said it couldn’t comment as it might compromise privacy rights and current investigations.
CSIS director Michel Coulombe, made no mention of the 80 individuals in his testimony before a Senate National Security and Defence Committee hearing in February, although the figure of 80 people was in his speaking notes obtained by media through an access-to-information request.
Coulombe did tell the committee that some 130 Canadians were still abroad, about 30 in Syria with others in Yemen, Somalia, and north and east Africa.
He also said, “Despite our best efforts it is highly likely there are Canadians we do not know of who are travelling overseas to engage in terrorist activities.”
Three Canadians have died in the last few months while fighting in Syria, and two others were killed last year while taking part in an Al Qaida attack on an gas plant in Algeria in which 40 foreign workers were also killed.
The government also suspects that Somali-Canadians are involved with the Al Qaeda-linked militant Somali group Al Shabab. Unconfirmed reports say that a Canadian was killed while taking part in the attack last year on the Supreme Court in Mogadishu
Last year the federal government pass laws increasing penalties for those leaving the country to take part in terrorist activities abroad.
CSIS director Michel Coulombe however said it is difficult to track “foreign fighters” as they are often in conflict areas or failed states so getting information about activities is very difficult to impossible. His speaking notes also point out those engaged in terrorist activities often travel on falsified documents and “Canada has not, to date, systematically collected exit information that could be used to reliably confirm an individual’s departure.”
Michel Juneau-Katsuya says foreign fighters are an increasing concern for all western countries.