OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada wants to arrest 80 people who returned to the country after taking part in suspected terrorism-related activities, the public safety minister said on Wednesday.
Canadian security officials have fretted for years about the number of young men travelling abroad to join militant groups, including Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The Canadian Parliament approved a government plan on Tuesday to send six fighter jets to the Middle East to join a U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.
As of early 2014, at least 130 people with Canadian connections - including citizenship or residency - were suspected of a wide range of terrorism-related activities abroad, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said.
“Some have died, some remain abroad. We know of about 80 who have returned to Canada,” he told Parliament’s public safety committee, saying the individuals posed a serious threat.
“I can confirm ... that as we speak, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is investigating these individuals and will seek to put them behind bars,” he said, without giving details.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said the force had 63 active national security investigations on 90 individuals who had either intended to go abroad or had returned to Canada.
Michel Coulombe, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service spy agency, said some of the 80 individuals had been involved in fund-raising and propaganda. “I don’t want people to believe that we have 80 returnees who were hard fighters in Iraq and Syria, because that is not the picture we have at the moment, although we have some of them,” he told the committee.
A Public Safety ministry report released Wednesday said people with Canadian connections participated in conflicts in Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Algeria and Afghanistan. About 30 people were suspected of being involved in terrorism-related plots in Syria, the report added.
The report said “global violent extremists, particularly al-Qaida” had identified Canada as a target.
“Although al-Qaida itself has been weakened, it still plays a strategic and inspirational role among diffuse regional affiliates and potential lone actors. Al-Qaida remains a direct threat to Canada for the foreseeable future,” it said.
The SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based company that tracks the online activities of militant Islamic groups, on Tuesday said an alleged Islamic State fighter had used Twitter to call for attacks on Canada. It identified the man as Abu Khalid Al-Kanadi, a name that SITE said indicates he comes from Canada, given that Al-Kanadi means “of Canada” in Arabic.
Two Canadians took part in a mass hostage-taking at a natural gas facility in Algeria in January 2013. About 70 people, including the two Canadians, died when Algerian troops stormed the plant.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Orlofsky