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America's Other Border

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
Updated: June 7, 2006

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With immigrants marching in the streets, senators debating a barrier wall, and National Guardsmen recently deployed, the U.S.-Mexican border has dominated much of the U.S. public's attention in recent months. Yet, as revelations emerge about an alleged Islamic terrorist cell in Canada (NYT), the calls for better control (CBC) over the world's longest undefended border now have new life. The Government Accountability Office recently told Congress that its agents had successfully smuggled radioactive material through a border crossing. A CRS report (PDF) examines the post-9/11 security needs along the U.S.-Canadian boundary, as does a CFR Task Force Report.

The sting operation in Canada, first revealed by the Toronto Star newspaper, targeted a cell composed of twelve men and five juveniles across three Ontario cities. When the formal allegations were made Tuesday, they included a plot to seize parliament and behead the prime minister (Globe and Mail), as well as plans to blow up three government buildings in southern Ontario.

Like the terrorists who bombed the London subways (BBC) last summer, the Canadian cell had no direct ties to the al-Qaeda network, but was likely inspired by al-Qaeda's rhetoric. According to the Toronto Star, the plot was hatched in an Internet chat room, where it was monitored by the Canadian intelligence service. Investigators are following up possible ties to terrorists in seven other countries (LAT), and reports have linked the cell to the London-based terrorist hacker, Irhaby 007 (WashPost), who was arrested last fall. This Backgrounder describes the ways in which terrorists use the Internet.

The arrests, which took place late Friday and early Saturday, shocked Canadians, who are coming to terms with the fact that they bred their own terrorists. Robert S. Leiken, a terrorism and immigration expert at the Nixon Center, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs that Europeans have found themselves addressing similar issues. The United States was confronted with homegrown terrorism after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Coincidentally, the Canadian plotters planned to use the same type of fertilizer bomb as in Oklahoma City, though Canadian police seized three times the amount of explosives used by Timothy McVeigh. Unlike McVeigh and other U.S.-bred terrorists, the Canadian cell was composed of Islamic extremists. News of the arrests prompted vandalism of a mosque (BBC), raising concerns about reprisals against the country's Muslim community. Other voices urged greater vigilance (National Post).

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