Harper government seeks advice on how jihadis use internet

Public Safety Canada is asking researchers to submit proposals to study links between the internet and violent extremism, including looking at how to prevent or intervene when Canadians are being radicalized.

Conservatives condemned Justin Trudeau for wanting to understand 'root causes' of terrorism

Wayne Rideout, the RCMP's assistant commissioner, shows the pressure cookers investigators said were intended as explosive devices in an Al-Qaeda-inspired plot to explode a bomb at the B.C. Legislature on Canada Day. The Harper government wants researchers to provide insight into the connection between violent extremism and the internet. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The federal government wants advice about how terror groups use the internet to lure Canadians.

While it doesn't specifically reference ISIS, the call for new research comes a day after Parliament voted to support sending CF-18 fighter jets to Iraq to fight the Sunni jihadi extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known for its use of online propaganda.

Public Safety Canada is asking researchers to submit proposals to study links between the internet and violent extremism, including looking at how to prevent or intervene when Canadians are being radicalized.

"Better understanding the role of the internet as a communications medium is crucial, given how it may play roles to both advocate and to counter narratives of violent extremism."

The background information supplied to potential bidders says the research the government wants "will increase 
our understanding of terrorism, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism, which will help produce more effective policies, tools and resources for law enforcement and people on the front lines.

"What makes this issue particularly difficult to understand is that it is a complex and varied phenomenon," it continues. 

"There is no simple or single set of factors" that lead to recruitment, the background says, and violent extremists "come from a variety of ethnic, cultural, educational, religious, regional and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as from different ages and genders.

"There can be a strong global dimension connecting to broader movements or outside organizations," it says.

Time to 'commit sociology?'

The call for submissions also raises the questions of:

  • What kinds of patterns exist in when and how groups form.
  • How their support fluctuates.
  • When and why individuals and groups turn violent.

The title given by the government on its request for proposal is "Assessment of the state of knowledge: Connections between research on the social psychology of the Internet and on violent extremism."

The government has mocked Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for saying it is important to look at the root causes of terrorism after the Boston Marathon bombings last year.

Harper said the proper response to such violence wasn't to "rationalize or make excuses" but "condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators you deal with them as harshly as possible." 

In April, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed a similar question after authorities arrested two men in Canada and accused them of trying to blow up a Via Rail train.

"I think, though, this is not a time to commit sociology, if I can use an expression," Harper said. "These things are serious threats, global terrorist attacks, people who have agendas of violence that are deep and abiding threats to all the values our society stands for."

Public Safety Canada later issued four additional tenders for research into terrorism, including one into the “social psychology” of terrorists and another into the role of women in terror groups.

“Women have been shown to play a variety of roles, from basic logistics support, to gathering intelligence, to justifying and encouraging violence, to executing terrorist acts,” says the document.

The researchers are also instructed to look into the “motivations” of female terrorists.

Research not about 'root causes': MacKay

The government says it's not fair to call these latest studies an examination of root causes.

"They are looking at ways in which we can obviously prevent and pre-empt terrorist acts. I think there is a difference, " said Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

"This study is obviously going to give us an insight into what people are thinking. Obviously we want to know if there are further actions we should be taking. that informs all public decision."

Conservative MP Darryl Kramp, who chairs the public safety committee, told reporters Wednesday that it's hard to know what lies at the root of homegrown extremism, but raised "violent video games" as a potential trigger.

"A lot of people feel it's from basically, let's just say, fundamentalist teachings. I'm just not even that sure if that is the genesis of all of this. Maybe part of it is … people who have a weakness and all of a sudden, there's a violent video game and as they grow a little bit older, they outgrow that and maybe think they can take a little dose of reality to some of that fantasy that exists in that world," Kramp said.

Funding for the research comes from the Kanishka Project, a $10-million, five-year initiative the government announced in 2011, focusing on terrorism and how to counter it. The initiative is named after the Air India Flight 182 plane that was bombed on June 23, 1985, killing 329 people, most of them Canadians.

With files from Janyce McGregor and Laura Payton