Who are the most wanted extremists in Canada?
CBC News compiles list of alleged extremists of interest to Canadian, international authorities
The government rarely offers details about Canadian extremists it believes pose a threat, but with the help of terrorism experts and using open sources of information, CBC News has pieced together a list of 18 Canadians accused of dangerous terrorist connections.
The same information is not publicly available from the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), raising questions about why Canadian law enforcement agencies aren’t more transparent about who is a threat to Canada and why.
"This is exactly how they operate," says Mubin Shaikh, an undercover operative for CSIS in the Toronto 18 terror case. "This is their style. You really have to squeeze it out of them to get any information."
The RCMP, on the other hand, says its hands are tied when it comes to releasing information about people who aren’t yet charged.
“Unless someone is charged with a criminal offence, for privacy reasons, the RCMP cannot release publicly personal information on individuals that are suspected to participate in criminal or terrorist offences,” the force said in a statement to CBC News.
The CBC list
The CBC News list contains the names of people charged by the RCMP, Canadians who have travelled abroad to fight alongside or support ISIS and Canadians identified as a threat by other countries.
Abderraouf Jdey, for example, is a Canadian citizen from Montreal who U.S. authorities say appears on a series of videotapes discovered in the rubble of a home in Afghanistan in 2002, swearing to die in terrorist attacks in the West.
There is no mention of Jdey on Canadian law enforcement websites. The FBI, on the other hand, has issued three warnings over the years about Jdey and currently offers a $5-million reward for help with his capture.
Another example is Hasibullah Yusufzai. He is the first Canadian to be charged (in absentia) under a new provision that makes it illegal to travel for terrorist purposes. The RCMP made public statements when it announced the charges against Yusufzai, but there is no photo on its website and nothing indicates whether he is currently wanted by authorities or the status of his case.
The same goes for two Calgary brothers, Collin and Gregory Gordon. They were recently identified by CBC News as travelling to Syria to become foreign fighters for ISIS.
Younger brother Collin, a frequent user of social media, has pledged his allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On Twitter he called the beheading of American journalist James Foley, "the perfection of terrorism."
Sources tell CBC News that Canadian authorities are paying attention to the brothers because of their association with known extremists in Calgary , but again, no information about them is publicly available on the RCMP’s website.
Experts confirm that the names compiled by CBC News are legitimate examples of Canadians with alleged ties to extremists who are of interest to Canadian law enforcement.
"There are a few names I certainly recognize," says Ray Boisvert, the former Director General of Counter Terrorism at CSIS. "Anybody on the list that you've shown me are people that probably have some insights, if nothing else. And possibly some of them could be more deeply involved [with extremist activities]."
Boisvert says he would welcome a more robust public ‘wanted’ list in Canada, but says it would be expensive and time consuming to maintain and he understands the decision not to put a lot of resources into one.
CSIS operative Shaikh disagrees.
“They are missing public input,” says Shaikh. “In this particular context it’s not going to be a police agent at a border point that’s going to pick the individual up. It’s going to be somebody who says ‘Hey, I know that guy.’ That’s how the information is going to come. I think there is a stronger case for making the information public.”
Only two names on RCMP public list
In fact, only two individuals are identified on the RCMP’s website as being wanted for terrorism.
Ferid Ahmed and his alleged accomplice Mariwand Yar are accused of being al-Qaeda members and receiving training from the Taliban. Ahmed allegedly provided training to the New York men who pleaded guilty in an attempted bombing of the New York subway system in 2010.
In contrast, the FBI maintains a robust and publicly available list of wanted suspects that dates back to the 1950s. It includes the names of suspected terrorists who haven’t been charged, but who are believed to be a threat.
Its list of 10 most wanted criminals is featured on television programs and has led to the capture of 156 fugitives "as a result of citizen cooperation," according to its website.
"For any law enforcement organization your best asset at your disposal is the general public," says Don Borelli, a retired 25-year veteran of the FBI, and former Assistant Special Agent in Charge in the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. "Whether it’s an anonymous lead or somebody seeing a wanted poster and possibly motivated by the reward money - it’s to elicit help from the general public."
In 1993, publicity about a reward offered on the FBI’s Most Wanted website led to the capture of Ramzi Yousef. He was a central figure in the first World Trade Centre bombing. His accomplice read reports about the reward for Yousef while in Pakistan, and turned him in.
"(The wanted list) is for the overseas audience as well," adds Borelli. "A lot of these people that are wanted (for terrorism), if not all of them, they’ve fled the U.S. and they are somewhere overseas. It’s a way to put that message out to the world, if you come across this person and you provide information, you can get a handsome reward for it."
Christian Leuprecht, a National Security expert and professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, says the absence of similar transparency in Canada is due to the high bar that’s been imposed by Canadian courts on making terrorism related arrests and convictions.
"So why don’t we have an RCMP list?" he asks. "Because the RCMP doesn’t want to put anybody’s name out there, I think for real concern that they are going to end up getting sued by those individuals."
In defence of its more limited public list, the RCMP says it is reserved for "the most serious cases."
"Subjects are added to the website at the request of investigators, following strict guidelines as established by the RCMP," the force said in a statement to CBC News.
"One of the guidelines, for example, is that subjects can only be added to the list if they are on CPIC with an active Canada-wide warrant. Investigators follow these and other established guidelines that assist (the RCMP) in compiling a public listing of some of the criminals that pose a serious threat and harm to public safety in Canada."
As an example for the RCMP to follow, Leuprecht points to the success of The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and its public list of non-citizens it wants deported for criminal reasons.
The list was launched in 2011. Since then, according to the agency, the list has led to the location of 59 people. Forty-nine of those have been deported.
"Make no mistake," adds Leuprecht. "I think the government is going to think very hard about what we can do to get a more FBI-type list. The evidence is out there that it can be done, because the CBSA has done it."