Edmonton

Extremist recruits difficult to monitor, say experts

Authorities have identified a growing number of people at risk of travelling overseas to join radical groups - but tracking them presents many challenges, say security experts.

Security experts say tracking 'high-risk travelers' is a challenge

Political Science professor Jean-Christophe Boucher says finding the right balance between increasing police power and respecting people's rights will be tricky. (CBC)

Authorities have identified a growing number of people at risk of travelling overseas to join radical groups — but tracking them presents many challenges, say security experts.

That may explain why three Edmonton cousins were able to board an airplane in October 2013, even though police had identified them as people with an interest in joining overseas extremist groups.

Last week, Ahmed Hirsi told CBC he believes his son Mahad, and two nephews from Edmonton were killed last year, fighting for the Islamic State. He said another nephew from Minneapolis also died in October, around the same time.

A day later, Edmonton police revealed they considered the Edmonton men “high-risk travelers.”

Hirsi questions why authorities didn’t prevent the trio from leaving, and warned extremists are still recruiting Canadians.

“Why (doesn’t) the government do something?” he asked.

But keeping track of Canadians at risk of joining radical groups overseas is difficult, said former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) intelligence officer Michel Juneau-Katsuya.

“We have literally mushroomed into hundreds and hundreds of people who need to be watched,” he said.

“Because just to watch one person 24/7 ... it’s at least 20 people that need to be involved.”

Balancing rights and security

He said high-risk travellers can easily board a plane if the names match on their boarding passes and government issued ID. They are not necessarily placed on a no-fly list, which would block them from flying.

“We have literally mushroomed into hundreds and hundreds of people who need to be watched,” said former CSIS intelligence officer Michel Juneau-Katsuya. (CBC)
Jean-Christophe Boucher, a political science professor at MacEwan University, said the government is looking for ways to increase the power of police to detain people even with limited information  but finding the right balance will be difficult.

“If we have ... police forces that can detain people under rumours and specific information, we need to find strong constraints and limits on those powers,” he said, adding ramping up police authority could easily trample on people’s rights.

But Katsuya said the answer goes beyond policing. He said more coordination is needed between police and professionals such as psychologists and social workers who can de-radicalize youth.

He noted, however, that preventing radicals from leaving the country to join extremist groups raises fears they will act out violent goals at home, as seen in the recent attack on Parliament Hill.

“The kind of attacks that have been preached and recommended by organizations like ISIS are very simple,” said Juneau-Katsuya.

“Use a gun, use a knife, use a car and kill, kill, kill - anybody. So that’s a phenomenal challenge.”

CSIS declined comment.

With files from Radio-Canada’s Jessica L’heureux

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