Converts who kill. They are one of the most frightening dimensions for the West in the war against worldwide jihad and Canada may be the next Western country facing the unprecedented danger they represent.
The respected publication Asia Times reported last Friday that a group of 12 Canadian converts to radical Islam are being trained in al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan’s tribal areas to carry out terrorist strikes in Canadian cities. The report’s authors, Syed Saleem Shahzad and Tahir Ali, state that the use of native converts like the Canadians is part of a long-term plan, developed since 2002 by al Qaeda, to bring the war to Western countries.
“Al-Qaeda had regrouped (after 9⁄11) in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to develop propaganda media structures to recruit in the West,” wrote Shahzad and Ali.
According to the story, the Canadians “joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan.” Based now in North Waziristan, the headquarters of world terrorism, the Canadians are headed by a 30-year old with a “golden beard.” The report listed six of their names, although the Shahzad and Ali stated the names could not be verified; but all appeared to be of either English or French origin.
A local source from Pakistan’s terrorist milieu told the Asia Times writers that after basic training in Afghanistan, the Canadians graduated to more specialized courses of killing in North Waziristan.
“Their main learning is how to use sophisticated weapons, and how to connect with local smuggling networks in North America,” the source said. “They are also learning how to use ordinary material like sugar and basic chemicals to make powerful explosives. These militants will then return to their country to execute al-Qaeda’s plan of targeting big cities in Canada.”
The fact that Islamic extremists can recruit Europeans and North Americans, especially among the white population, has always been a disturbing development in the war against Islamic extremism. The advantages are obvious. The nativeness of such converts provide them with a camouflage foreign terrorists don’t have. Armed with a valid passport, a fair-haired convert-terrorist dressed in a three-piece Armani suit and carrying a briefcase, speaking the target country’s language perfectly and looking like a prosperous businessman, will not arouse the same suspicion at an airport entry point as a person of Middle Eastern appearance with accent-laden speech.
And it is this greater facility to leave and return to a target country that makes the convert-terrorist a major threat. Moreover, once inside the target country, his knowledge of local conditions also allows him to function in a less detectable manner than a foreign terrorist.
Islamic terrorist groups have long recognised the value of such hard-to-detect converts, especially the white ones, who are highly prized, since they arouse less suspicion. It is also for this increased ability to fly under the security radar that the blonder and more blue-eyed the radical converts are, the more sought after they are by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Already in the 1990s, Hezbollah used a blond-haired, blue-eyed German convert to travel to Israel as a spy after training in a camp in southern Lebanon. Another German convert masterminded a synagogue bombing in Tunisia in April, 2002, in which 21 people died. And only two months ago, Germany was on a high state of alert as a group of terrorists that included white German converts was reported to be returning from terrorist camps in North Waziristan to stage an attack in their native land.
Almost all Western states have had native-born citizens involved in Islamist terrorist plots, some of them targeting their own societies. And almost all Western states, including America, are represented in terrorist training camps in the Pakistan-Afghanistan theater. One book, published in 2003, stated that 400 Americans had trained since 1989 in jihadi camps located there.
The most famous of these turncoats is John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban. Al Qaeda was not slow in trying to exploit Lindh’s nativeness for its own evil purposes. In his book Getting Away With Murder: The Real Story Behind American Taliban John Walker Lindh and What the U.S. Government Had To Hide, author Richard Mahoney writes that after completing his training in a jihadi camp just before 9⁄11, Lindh was approached by an al-Qaeda operative to perform suicide missions against American or Israeli targets. Luckily for the intended targets, Lindh refused.
But the dilemma of converts to Islam attacking their native countries is not a just modern problem. In the Middle Ages in Spain, such “renegades”, as they were called, were considered more dangerous than the non-native Muslim enemy and were “despised and feared”, since their knowledge of the local terrain allowed them to guide, and even lead, successful raids against their own people. If captured, justice for such apostates “could be swift and terrible” and they were often killed on sight.
“The death of these hated enemies,” wrote one historian of medieval Spain, “was a cause for celebration.”
The reason why such a small number of converts, such as the Canadian ones, among the many thousands to Islam are willing to engage in such extreme, violent behaviour and by doing so betray their own people, country and culture are varied. But some that were mentioned for the medieval “renegados” still hold true today. One is that the converts want to convince their new co-religionists of the genuineness of their conversion by willingly, even zealously, participating in attacks against their former co-religionists. Others took a more ominous view, seeing in the converts’ willingness to carry out murderous strikes, even against women and children, an expression of the hatred, anger and revenge they harboured for their families and the societies they perceived had wronged them.
Unlike his counterparts in the Middle Ages, though, the modern European or North American convert to Islam may engage in a suicide attack. Russian converts have staged such dark strikes and a French woman became a suicide bomber in Iraq. But the best known convert-suicide attacker is the British shoe bomber, Richard Reed, who tried to blow an American Airlines flight out of the sky in 2001. Only a damp fuse that refused to light prevented his murdering dozens of passengers as well as himself.
This horrific manner of personal destruction is due to the strong death wish running through the modern-day radical Islamic movement, which John Walker Lindh alludes to when he said he fully expected to become a “shahid” (a martyr). Radical Arab and Pakistani Muslims, among others, have already exhibited many times over this death wish in their own suicide attacks.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently investigating reports of Canadians in North Waziristan’s terrorist camps. While converts from Europe and North America are known to be present there, and for some time at that, it is the first time that mention has ever been made of Canadians. As a result, Canada will have to join the rest of the West in realizing its native converts to Islam now serve as a potential source of terrorism it can no longer ignore.
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