Ottawa has opened a new front in its global conflict with Islamic extremism by joining the attack on al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in East Africa that draws young recruits and support from Canada and around the world.
Leading an Islamist insurgency in Somalia, al-Shabab - literally "the youth" - uses the Internet to draw young recruits from abroad even as it applies medieval punishments to alleged infidels at home. The militants' frequent use of suicide bombers and their draconian application of sharia law have led to frequent comparisons with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The federal government announced yesterday that it has formally designated al-Shabab a terrorist organization under Canadian law, which will enable the Crown to seize any money and assets belonging to al-Shabab fronts that exist in Canada.
It should also make it easier to launch prosecutions against local operatives and recruiters.
"All I can say is we are watching this organization very closely," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in an interview.
He said he could not speak to any police operations that may be coming.
But, "We certainly believe they have a presence here, that's clear," he said.
Several young men from the Toronto region have travelled to East Africa in recent months, apparently to join al-Shabab fighters.
Agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP have been canvassing Somali neighbourhoods to seek leads on the whereabouts of these young men and possibly to lay the foundations of criminal investigations.
It is Somali-Canadians at large who are the most worried about the growing reach of the terrorist group, according to Mr. Toews. "There is a great deal of concern in the community over the radical elements," he said.
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom blacklisted al-Shabab, with the United States and Australia already having done so.
Mr. Toews acknowledged that Canada lagged behind, but said that authorities first had to assemble sufficient evidence that the group was active here before going ahead with blacklisting al-Shabab.
The last group designated as a terrorist entity by the Conservative Canadian government was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Eelam, or Tamil Tigers.
Quickly afterward, the RMCP seized buildings and assets associated with an alleged LTTE front group operating in Toronto and Montreal.
When Western governments team up to blacklist terrorist groups, that kind of co-ordinated approach can pay dividends.
The Tamil Tigers' use of suicide bombers and political assassinations had drawn international condemnation for decades, but it was only after authorities in Europe, the United States and Canada stepped up enforcement in recent years that the Tigers were starved of money and materiel.
Sri Lanka's army vanquished the Tigers last spring.
Shutting down the Shabab may prove more difficult. Somalia is anarchic and has operated without a functional government for nearly two decades.
Al-Shabab and other Islamist insurgents are seeking to fill the power vacuum.Report Typo/Error