Terrorist attack in Canada shows limits of a persistent threat

Such attacks are a sign of weakness rather than of strength and highlight the constraints jihadist groups face as they try to project their terrorist capability in the post-9/11 world

Editor’s Note: The following article by Scott Stewart originally appeared on Stratfor, and is republished with permission of Stratfor, a company that uses a unique, intel-based approach to analyze world affairs, and provide global awareness and guidance to individuals, governments, and businesses. Scott Stewart supervises the day-to-day operations of Stratfor's intelligence team and plays a central role in coordinating the company's analytical process with its business goals. Before joining Stratfor, Stewart was a special agent with the U.S. State Department for 10 years and was involved in hundreds of terrorism investigations.

To avoid the difficulty of transporting personnel and weapons, terrorist groups have made a practice of seeking out potential militants already living in Western countries and recruiting them to conduct attacks. 

On Oct. 20, Canada became the latest Western country to be targeted by this kind of attack when a grassroots jihadist ran over two Canadian soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richeliu with his car. This is exactly the type of attack we expect to see from the global jihadist movement in the West. 

Such attacks are a sign of weakness rather than of strength and highlight the constraints jihadist groups face as they try to project their terrorist capability in the post-9/11 world.

Police in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada, shot and killed a 25-year-old Quebec man Oct. 20 after he intentionally ran over two Canadian soldiers with his car and led police on a high-speed chase. During the chase, the suspect, Martin Rouleau, reportedly called the authorities and told the dispatcher he was "acting in the name of Allah." After losing control of his car and rolling it, Rouleau reportedly threatened officers with a large souvenir knife, and the officers shot him. One of the soldiers died from his injuries and the other was wounded.

According to the Toronto Star, Rouleau converted to Islam about a year ago after struggling with personal and business issues, adopting the name Ahmed Rouleau on Facebook and Abu Ibrahim AlCanadi on Twitter. A review of his social media accounts shows that he had a distinct attraction toward jihadism. 

Rouleau followed a number of jihadist Twitter accounts, many of which are associated with the Islamic State. His personal profiles also feature symbols frequently used by jihadists. Canadian authorities prevented Rouleau from leaving the country when he attempted to travel to Syria to join a jihadist group last summer.

Rouleau's vehicle attack is very similar to a tactic al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula advocated in the second edition of Inspire magazine, where grassroots jihadists were told to run over victims with a large pick-up truck. Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani also called on jihadists to use vehicles and other simple modes of attack in a statement released on Sept. 21:

You must strike the soldiers, patrons, and troops of the tawaghit. Strike their police, security, and intelligence members, as well as their treacherous agents. Destroy their beds. Embitter their lives for them and busy them with themselves. If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be…

If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.

This incident is precisely the type of attack we expect from grassroots jihadists, who are eager to fight but generally lack the terrorist tradecraft required to conduct a more sophisticated attack. Quite frequently, these individuals stumble into law enforcement stings when they seek the capability to conduct a more sophisticated attack. Those who decide to conduct a simple attack like the Boston Marathon bombers, however, generally succeed. In this case, Rouleau's attack was not well thought out, and his use of a cheap souvenir knife reveals that he was also poorly equipped, yet he succeeded in killing a Canadian soldier before being killed himself.

Considering the number of people who have become radicalized, it is actually remarkable that more grassroots jihadist attacks have not occurred in the West. 

This is a testament to the efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, organizations keenly aware of the threat that grassroots jihadists pose. By maintaining awareness of these kinds of threats, police and communities can help mitigate the danger. 

However, with so many individuals to monitor, limited resources and the ease with which simple attacks can be conducted, it is impossible to stop every grassroots jihadist bent on destruction. Ultimately, grassroots jihadists will continue to pose a persistent, though limited, threat.

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