- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Concern is growing among U.S. and Canadian counterterrorism specialists that Somali-Canadians are joining Islamist militias in their homeland linked to al Qaeda.

Former senior Canadian intelligence official David Harris said there was concern that returning militia veterans with “the kind of skills that … could make them very dangerous” might try to stage terror attacks.

“We’re seeing the possibility of a tragic future unfold,” he said.

Mr. Harris, a former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service who now directs a terrorism intelligence program for a private-sector consulting firm, said he was “extremely uneasy about what their ultimate return would imply for our security.”

If the returning militia veterans were naturalized citizens or permanent residents of Canada, they would also be able to easily enter the United States, he said.

Worries are especially acute because the groups concerned are not listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. or Canadian governments, Mr. Harris said.

Canada’s National Post newspaper reported at the weekend that some naturalized Canadians have joined the al-Shabaab (the Youth) militia in Somalia and that others hold leadership positions within other parts of the Islamic Courts Union, the loose coalition of Muslim militias that now controls the capital Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country.

U.S. and Canadian intelligence officials declined to comment on the report.

Al-Shabaab’s leader, Aden Hashi Ayro, was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion, and maintains links with the group, according to the International Crisis Group.

Canada is home to tens of thousands of naturalized Somalis, mostly refugees who arrived after the 1991 fall of President Mohammed Siad Barre, the last functioning government of the country.

Two Somali-Canadians were among the 18 arrested last June in the Toronto area after they tried to buy the ingredients for homemade bombs from undercover investigators.

Counterterrorism agencies have long been concerned about the possible terrorist recruitment of people with European or North American citizenship or permanent residency. They can travel much more freely than recruits with Pakistani, Somali or other “country-of-interest” nationalities.

The concern is accentuated in chaotic failed states such as Somalia, where intelligence gathering and interdiction are more difficult.

“Terrorist operatives have been … able to move into, within and out of Somalia with little or no visibility to international security and intelligence agencies,” J. Peter Pham of James Madison University in Virginia said at a recent congressional hearing.