The biggest news story over the weekend was the arrest of 17 terrorism suspects in Ontario, Canada who were in possession of three tons of high-grade ammonium nitrate and apparently on the verge of carrying out attacks on targets in Ontario. More arrests are still expected.
Some initial reactions:
1. This is without a doubt the most significant publicly-acknowledged counterterrorism success in North America since the disruption of the Millennium plot in 1999, given the advanced stage of the plot, the high-profile targets, and the apparent sophistication of the terrorist group’s efforts. The Canadian officials at CSIS and the RCMP who worked to disrupt this plot deserve commendation. I think Sec. Rice was spot on when she noted that “the Canadians have had a very great success in their counter-terrorism efforts” and “are on the job.”
2. This story is already having an impact on the subject of security at the US-Canadian border. For example, Rep. Peter King stated that al-Qaeda had a large presence in Canada due to the country’s “very liberal immigration laws, because of how political asylum was granted so easily.” The Canadian ambassador to the U.S. protested this statement, but I do think it is a legitimate critique, going back to the example of Ahmed Ressam and still an issue today. I’d like to see the United States and Canada harmonize and integrate the intelligence and screening functions of their entry and immigration systems, in a way that still allows countries to maintain distinct policies. Perhaps this case will spur new activity in this direction, and lead to increased resources for intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation. But I think it would be a mistake to suggest that we need additional new Border Patrol and surveillance resources at the US-Canada border as a result of this.
3. The Toronto Star reports that the plot originated in an Internet chat room. This confirms what people like Gabriel Weimann have been saying for the last couple of years – that the Internet is an important new locus of terrorist recruiting (or self-identification) and coordination.
Update (6/5): Many, many links courtesy of the Counterterrorism Blog.