A crazy little story came to light last week when it was reported that Ali Mohamed Dirie was killed in the Syrian civil war.
What made Dirie’s death newsworthy was the fact that he was not only a Canadian citizen, but he had been previously convicted and incarcerated in Canada for terrorist-related activities.
Back in 2006, Dirie and 17 other Islamic extremists — the “Toronto 18” — were arrested by the RCMP for plotting to wage a terror campaign on Canadian soil.
These would-be jihadists, possessing only a handgun — with only a few bullets — were caught in a sting operation when they attempted to purchase bomb-making material.
Other than some grainy video footage of these homegrown would-be terrorists playing a paintball game in cottage country, the Toronto 18 never hurt so much as the proverbial fly. But they had plans, lots of plans.
While none of the accused had explosive or demolition skills, the gang planned to blow up the landmark CN Tower. As a symbol of their hatred for our capitalist society, they also wanted to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Parliament Hill was another of their targets, but the sheepish suspects admitted they hadn’t even visited Ottawa to conduct a reconnaissance mission.
When it came to using the media to magnify their deeds, these jihadists didn’t have a vague notion, but rather a very specific plan right down to the time-slot and channel. Without having any concrete tactical plan of how they would achieve their goal, the Toronto 18 wanted to behead Prime Minster Stephen Harper live on television during CBC’s nightly newscast, the National with Peter Mansbridge.
While that would have admittedly caused quite the sensation, the Mounties and Canadian Security Intelligence Service were all over these terror-plotters well before they could have ever cut off Harper’s head.
For his role in the plot, Dirie pleaded guilty in 2009, served two years at a maximum-security facility in Quebec and was released in 2011.
At his parole hearing in 2010, Dirie was unrepentant about his terrorist activities, telling the board members, “I am out (of jail) in two years, and my actions will speak louder than words.”
That’s not a well-advised statement when one is seeking to obtain freedom, but then, no one ever accused Dirie of being a genius.
When Dirie finally secured his release from prison, he had a rare court-imposed order placed upon him that prevented the aspiring jihadist from having a passport, and conditions of his parole required him to report to police every two weeks.
Having failed in his attempt to topple the Conservative regime in Canada and behead Harper, Dirie decided instead to procure a false passport, fly to Syria and attempt to topple President Bashar al-Assad. If Dirie’s goal was to martyr himself in the name of Islam, then last week the Syrian government forces made his wish come true.
It is somewhat ironic that a recent CSIS report cited the Syrian civil war as a potential breeding ground for home-grown terrorists.
Under the CSIS doomsday scenario, young idealistic Muslim Canadians would be drawn to fight with the anti-Assad rebel forces in Syria. They would be trained in the art of bomb-making and radicalized by their al-Qaida-linked comrades. Upon returning to Canada, the freshly minted jihadists would then start targeting innocent Canadians.
Instead, in this case, we have an Islamic fundamentalist nutbar who made no false pretences about his desire to wage jihad, and we failed to rehabilitate him.
We also failed to keep him secure within our borders. Had Dirie crossed the U.S. border and attacked American targets, one has to believe there would have been a whole lot more soul-searching and finger-pointing going on regarding the failure of our justice system and police services.
You can bet Canadian politicians and diplomats would have been grovelling to their American counterparts, begging their forgiveness and promising to tighten our border security.
Instead, Dirie was drawn to war-torn Syria like a moth to the flame.
And his battlefield death is regarded as little more than a quirky coincidence with a Canadian connection.