CANADA

Terrorists training in the Canadian wilderness

A video that will be used as evidence against a group of alleged Islamic extremist terrorists has emerged on the internet just before one of the accused is to stand trial for Canada's first ever terror plot. But the footage was shot on a weekend camp organised by an informant paid by Canada's security services - a detail largely overlooked by the Canadian media. Read more and see the video...

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A video that will be used as evidence against a group of alleged Islamic extremist terrorists has emerged on the internet just before one of the accused is to stand trial for Canada's first ever terror plot. But the footage was shot on a weekend camp organised by an informant paid by Canada's security services - a detail largely overlooked by the Canadian media.

Hailed as "key evidence" by the Canadian press, the video shows a small group of youths hiking, using a rifle and play fighting in the woods in Ontario. It is being used as proof that the "Toronto 18", of which some were allegedly in the video, were training for planned "large-scale attacks" in Ontario. Eleven members of the group face trial this autumn for alleged involvement in the planned attacks.

The group was arrested during counter-terrorism raids in June 2006. They were accused of planning to attack, amongst others, the Canadian Parliament and The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) headquarters with truck bombs, take hostages, and behead the Prime Minister and other politicians.

Their cases are based on evidence against them largely collected by two CSIS informants, who were paid C$300,000 (€200,000) and C$4 million (€2.6m) respectively for their work. The former is Mubin Shaikh, a Muslim, who organised the "terrorist training" weekend camp shown in the video. Known in Canada for his outspoken attitude and a problematic drug addiction, Mubin Shaikh caused controversy by admitting that the group was not aware of the "terror plot" that lay behind the "winter weekend" camp, as the participants refer to it. When FRANCE 24 tried to contact the CSIS to confirm these details, they told us they were unable to comment.

Since the start of the case, charges against seven of those originally arrested have been stayed. Those released say they were tortured and abused in prison, with some left in solitary confinement for up to 17 months.

"The threat is real; it's not just a fad"

Fabrice de Pierrebourg is an investigative writer specialised in the terrorist threat of Islamic extremism in Canada. He wrote Montréalistan, a book about 20 terrorists living undercover in Montreal.

Some people have said that these kids are only kids joking about jihad. But I don't consider training in the snowy woods with a 9mm and what I think is a jihadist flags harmless. The Toronto 18 is one of the first groups to target members of the government directly. And even if they're using fake guns in the video, I still find that worrying.

It's not like we're talking about an event that couldn't happen. Recently an IT technician at the ministry of foreign affairs was arrested because the secret services discovered that he was in correspondence by email with five terrorists in London.

But in general, we don't get to the bottom of the mystery until the end of the case. The law, religious freedom and freedom of association have all greatly helped the setting up of terrorist webs as they can use the cover of being a legal association. And diaspora groups are important for terrorists - it's much easier to hide yourself in a large group, and then find sensitive people with common interests.

However, the threat is real; it's not just a fad. In Canada the Tamil Tigers have installed themselves, and in the French speaking side of Quebec you find Islamic extremists from North Africa. There are also Hezbollah members."

The "terror training camp"

The video, posted by a US non-profit counter-terrorism organisation called Nine/ Eleven Finding Answers (NEFA), appeared just over a week before the first of the remaining eleven members of the "Toronto 18" is to stand trial.

"The video is further proof that there was nothing sinister about this"

David Weingarten is a Toronto-based documentary maker who has been following the case since it began. He produced the independent documentary, "Unfair Dealing", to counteract the mainstream media coverage of the affair.

I don't know what the motives were for releasing the video, but considering the timing - there's a trial on Thursday - I predict that it was done so that the government can counter any criticism if there's a not-guilty verdict. They'll use the video to lessen their embarrassment.

But seeing as the footage was from a weekend camp directed by Mubin Shaikh [the CSIS informant], anyway. Well... You figure that 300,000 dollars for a year's work is a great incentive to do what you're told and produce results for your employers. I'm not saying he set them up [the Toronto 18] but he has said that some of the people he was bringing to the group were unaware of what was going on. [For them] this was just a religious retreat - a place for them to get back to basics and get back to their roots. One said he just wanted to lose weight!

For me though, the video is further proof that there was nothing sinister about this. Paintball and hiking through the snow are quite popular activities in Ontario. The music doesn't point to anything sinister - YouTubers often add music to videos, and these kids are Muslim [the music was Nasheed - an Islamic oriented song]. Same with the flag - there's no particular insignia on it. As for the driving part - they call it ‘spinning donuts' here. It's what every kid does when he first gets his [driving] license and it's snowing. In fact the only sinister thing about this video is someone handling a rifle - and that's the informant!

The problem with this case is that all the country's media told the story from the point of view that these men were guilty, when there's hardly any proof. What happened to "innocent until proven guilty?" You have to remember that with our current conservative government we've been allying ourselves with the Bush administration. And plus, the timing of the arrests was very opportunistic for certain agencies. The government was renewing the budget for 2008 - and agencies like the CSIS wanted to make sure they got a good part of it. They probably felt that there was a lull in public support since 9/11 and were in need of some extra funds. So the Toronto 18 story suited everybody."