Ottawa Attacks, Islamic State Recruitment Tactics Spark Collective Action

November 3rd, 2014

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By CHHS Research Assistant Laura Merkey

Recent news reports and the media have been inundated with accounts of extremist attacks and shootings geared at government buildings or officials. Canadian citizens were shocked when a lone gunman, recently identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, fatally shot a soldier who was guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Zehaf-Bibeau, who was shot and killed in the attack, was Canadian born, had a prior criminal record, and had recently converted to Islam.

Shortly after the Ottawa shooting, a man who has been identified as Zale H. Thompson attacked four New York City Police officers, injuring two of the officers. Thompson was fatally shot during the attack. Thompson has been tentatively identified as sympathizing with violent jihadists.

In late September 2014, in Melbourne, Australia, an 18-year-old man stabbed two counterterrorism officers before he was shot and killed.  The man was described by police as a “known terror suspect.”  Just a few days before this incident, a 22-year-old man in Sydney was arrested after being allegedly asked by an Islamic State (IS) lieutenant to carry out a beheading on camera.

The United States (US) has bolstered security in response to these attacks and reaffirmed their solidarity with Canada.  However, the seemingly endless reports of Western citizens attempting to leave their countries to join militant groups in Syria or taking orders from militant leaders begs the question as to whether the upped security measures will be enough to combat these threats.

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to recruitment tactics, such as online IS propaganda featuring fighters with American accents. In the past few weeks, three Colorado teens were stopped in Germany attempting to travel to Syria, a seventeen-year-old Australian was featured in a video by the IS railing against various world leaders, and two Austrian teens, both of whom are now reportedly pregnant, ran away to Syria to join the IS.

The Ottawa shooter was not one of the 90 “high-risk travelers” being monitored by Canadian authorities because they are suspected of wanting to join extremists overseas.  Monitoring these types of threats is extremely difficult due to their unpredictability. US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has urged state and local governments, their law enforcement personal, and critical infrastructure owners to be especially vigilant in guarding against small-scale attacks by  lone offenders or small groups of individuals.

Under Secretary of State for Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel has said that the US anti-IS messaging campaign is working. The effort brings messages from hundreds of Islamic clerics and scholars who explain that IS’ actions are a perversion of Islam. The US is also pressing Arab nations and other allies to counter IS propaganda, while urging Kuwait and Qatar to do more in preventing extremists from receiving private funding.

As John Kerry was quoted by CNN during his first official trip to Canada as Secretary of State, “[W]e will leave no effort untested with respect to our efforts to shut down the ability of these people to propagandize, to lie, to deceive, and to have whatever influence they may be able to have on young minds.”

While it is unclear how effective these efforts will be, it is clear that this will not be a battle won overnight.

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