Reuters reports that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, using an undercover operative, have thwarted a plot by a Pakistani man to attack the U.S. Consulate and other buildings in the financial district of Toronto. The suspect, 33-year-old Jahnazeb Malik, is a permanent resident who came to Canada as a student in 2004, claims to have had a personal relationship with the late al-Qaeda guru Anwar al-Awlaki, and is now an ISIS supporter.
The RCMP has not made any official statements about how “imminent” Malik’s planned attack was, but he allegedly received some form of military training during a trip to Libya, so he evidently poses a significant threat. Canadian authorities are also understandably on guard against “lone wolf” jihad attacks after suffering several of them last fall.
According to the National Post, Malik got on Canadian security’s radar screen by claiming he worked as a teacher during his 2013 trip to Libya. Owing in part to his dodgy legal history – including arrests for credit card fraud, assault, making threats, and violating a restraining order around his wife – his story was deemed sufficiently implausible to assign an undercover police officer, who approached Malik posing as a contractor who wanted to sell him hardwood flooring. The officer, who posed as a veteran of the Bosnian civil war, said Malik tried to radicalize him by showing him videos of ISIS beheadings, and expressed support for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.
The would-be jihadi was said to be keen to videotape his planned bomb attacks and create some recruiting videos of his own. Evidently the plan got as far as selecting a target list and designing remote-control bombs before the RCMP pulled the plug on the operation. With enough explosives to carry out the attack, it could have put up to 200,000 lives at risk in the crowded financial district.
Despite these ominous developments, Malik has not been brought up on terrorism charges. He is facing deportation hearings as a security threat – a strategy his lawyer seemed to be denouncing as an end-run around the more stringent legal procedures of a criminal trial by asking, “Why wouldn’t you prosecute this guy and give him life? I don’t think this is the right way to do it.”
The National Post has previously reported on another Toronto resident, Mohammed Aqeea Ansari, facing possible deportation on the grounds that he belongs to a Pakistani terrorist organization, was recorded at a Toronto mosque expressing hatred for Canadians, endorsing the notion of death as punishment for insults to Islam, and keeping extremist materials in his home. Like Malik, Ansari has an interesting legal history, having been arrested in 2012 for buying $20,000 worth of firearms and ammunition at a time when he was “jobless and living his brothers’ basement.”
Critics of these arrests and deportations allege that the Canadian government is trying to ratchet up public anxiety to build support for tough new anti-terrorism laws, which would include broader surveillance powers. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney used Malik’s arrest as evidence that the new law is needed: “We are taking strong action to ensure that security agencies have the tools they need to protect Canadians against the evolving terror threat. That is also why we have tabled the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, which I urge all Parliamentarians to support.” (Note that in Canada, “tabling” legislation means putting it forward for a vote, whereas Americans tend to equate the term with abandoning or postponing a discussion.)