Monday, June 05, 2006

Blending In

One of the leaders at a mosque attended by those Canadian terror suspects is expressing surprise at their arrest, and their apparent plans to conduct a series of bombings across southern Ontario.

According to Iman Qamrul Khanson, several members of the suspected terror ring prayed daily at his storefont mosque (the Al Rahman Islamic Center for Islamic Education), but "never spoke of hurting others." The one-room mosque is located in Mississauga, Ontario, a middle-class town west of Toronto. At least 40-50 families attend the mosque; press reports indicate at least three of the suspects prayed there on a regular basis.

The oldest suspect, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, was apparently more than a mere worshipper. Khanson told reporters that Jamal often led prayers at the mosque, and described them as "more aggressive" than those of other worship leaders. But Khanson said that Jamal's prayers contained no mention of violence or terrorism.

That description doesn't quite square with other accounts, which suggest that Jamal is a "well-known and fiery figure in Toronto's South Asian community, and iman of the Ar Rahman Quran Learning Center in Mississagua. Tarek Fatah, who runs the Muslim Canadian Congress says Jamal took over "an otherwise peaceful mosque and threw out the old management. There were reports throughout the community of him making hate speeches." Hat tip: Andrew Coyne.

And, if that's not enough, there are those disturbing ties between Jamal's gang and a couple of U.S. terrorism suspects, recently arrested by the FBI. Two other Canadians with ties to Jamal are already in prison, after being apprehended as they attempted to smuggle weapons into that country. That activity, coupled with the group's ideology and attempts to purchase large quantities of amonium nitrate, certainly warranted their surveillance by U.S. and Canadian authorities. When the RCMP learned of their attempt to buy amonium nitrate, a sting was arranged, with officers posing as fertilizer providers, and a harmless powder substituted for the chemical, which becomes a high explosive when mixed with fuel oil or other substances.

The operation that led to last weekend's arrests is already being described as a "sting" and I'm sure that defense attorneys will start using the term "set-up" within the next couple of news cycles. That seems to be part-and-parcel of the domestic terrorist defense strategy, previously observed during terror cases in California and upstate New York. In Lodi, California, friends and neighbors expressed shock and disbelief at the arrests of a five men with alleged Al-Qaida connections, including a 22-year-old Pakistani-American who had attended a terrorist training camp near the Afghanistan border. "They are good people," said one neighbor. We never had any problem with them." Members of the Lackawanna Seven, convicted of providing material support to Al-Qaida, were described in equally, ordinary terms. One of the terrorists was even voted the "friendliest" member of his high school graduating class in 1996. All were long-time residents of the Lackawanna area, who blended seamlessly into their communities.

Which brings us back to that mosque in Ontario and the worshippers arrested over the weekend. It is far too early to determine if these men had any ties to Al-Qaida, but they certainly seem to fit the evolving profile of home-grown Islamic terrorists: Muslim men recruited, indoctrinated and trained in their community, where strong local ties make them all-but-oblivious to law enforcment. If press reports are accurate, the Canadian cell wasn't identified until their internet communications were intercepted by intelligence organizations, highlighting the ability of domestic terrorists to work and plot, literally under the noses of local authorities. It's the type of organizational model that facilitated successful terror attacks in London, Madrid (and elsewhere), and it remains one of the greatest challenges in prosecuting the War on Terror.

The Canadian investigation is continuing, and one issue that remains unresolved is the role Jamal played at that Ontario mosque, and whether his intentions plans were known (to any degree) outside the members of his cell. From what we've learned so far, the disrupted Toronto plot seems to be similar to failed plots in Lodi and Lackawanna in one key respect; in each case, the activities of suspected terrorists seemd all-but-transparent to the members of their communities.

Was the Canadian plot simply a case of terrorists blending easily into their surroundings, or an example of friends and neighbors ignoring potential warning signs, either intentionally or unintentionally. At this point, it's difficult to say, but reports of Jamal's "taking control" of that storefront mosque and preaching hate-filled sermons doesn't exactly match descriptions of a "peaceful" worship center offered by other members of the congregation. I'm guessing that Iman Khanson (and other members of the mosque) may be having some extended conversations with the RCMP in the coming days.


usually mellow said...

I'll throw out a few more questions...

Putting myself in 'their shoes' for a moment, if a more 'aggressive' group came in and took over my place of worship...would I find that strange? Would such a 'change' in a mosque's tone elicit such gossip?

Maybe it's nothing more than a gut feeling that's something's different, not quite many times have we all had those gut feelings.

When even mundane things happen (let alone strange), this type of stuff is such juicy gossip fodder that who wouldn't be able to resist chatting this up with a neighbor or friend or family member?

We're all aware of our local surroundings to some extent...we know what's normal, and what's changed or new or out of the ordinary.

It's a part of life...starting a conversation with a friend or family member..."Hey, did you see that strange car parked on the street tonight?" or "The imam's new and his tone is a bit harsher than the old one..."

As subtle as these suspects appeared to you/I (separated by thousands of miles viewed through a reporters eyes), I'm willing to bet that there were indicators or signs visible to those who lived/prayed/worked in the neighborhood, especially now with 20/20 hindsight.

Who again hasn't had a conversation with their neighbor "I knew that car parked on the street was out of place when I got home last night...I'd never seen it before." when talking about the burglary with their neighbor the next day...but when pulling into the driveway, is everyone to assume the worst about every one of life's oddities?

Will the benefit of 20/20 hindsight be useful the next time the local mosque's tone gets more aggressive or a strange car is parked on your street at 10pm?

A counter-terrorist speaker told my company at a seminar: "You know what's normal and what's not in your neighborhoods, your places of work and recreation. There's no harm in calling the police department (not 911) and having the officer take a report...breaking the terrorist's surveillance cycle is the best way to disrupt terrorist attacks."

While not 100% germane to the post at hand, the thrust of his message holds true.

usually mellow said...

To finish my meandering rant:

Were the worshippers:

1) ignorant/oblivious
2) intimidated/fearful
3) sympathetic
4) complicit

In a 'culturally closed', immigrant community, banishment or the fear of being banished from the center of social life (mosque) could be a powerful tool to keep people in line. Other less subtle methods would include varying degrees of intimidation.

If most of the worshippers were fearful and a few others were sympathetic, everyone falls into line and then...

David M. McClory said...

The people at that mosque are good people. They reported the firebrand, according to reports here in Toronto.

This sort of dynamic happens a lot in Mosques in Ontario, and I'll bet, elsewhere in North America. That is, traditional Muslims from overseas, who are quietist and mind their own business, find better organized hotheads coming around. Soon, the youth are turned around, and all of a sudden, you get the Salafists in charge.

We need laws that require publicly relased audited financial statements and solid not-for-profit registration for religious establishments.

alanna said...

I was one of the people who voted Yasein Taher friendliest in his class. At that time he nor the other members were "blending in". In a different sense of the phrase maybe. But not because they were involved in militant Islam. I know this because it was apparent when the changes occured. Not many people were "surprised" when the arrests were made. Although, I must point out that they were apprehended by the F.B.I at the airport upon returning home . Arrests were not made till much much later. How much support could have been given while under the watchful eye of our gov.?