The man police have identified as the mastermind of the Paris terror attacks called Canadian terrorists "martyrs" in a recent issue of an ISIS magazine.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the internationally wanted Belgian jihadi who goes by the nom-de-guerre Abu Umar Al-Baljiki, was featured in the February issue of Dābiq.
"I ask Allah to accept the fruitful deeds of the shuhadā’ [martyrs] who terrorized the crusaders of America, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Belgium," he reportedly told the ISIS propaganda publication.
The Canadian attacks took place about three months earlier when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, then stormed Parliament Hill. Days prior, another radicalized Canadian — Martin Couture-Rouleau — killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent by running the uniformed soldier over with a car.
Zehaf-Bibeau said in a video he made before the shootings that he was retaliating against Canada for its contributions to the war in Afghanistan and the current bombing campaign against ISIS. New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to withdraw Canada's fighter jets from the U.S.-led combat mission in Syria and Iraq.
The fact that Abaaoud praised the Canadian attackers isn't surprising, says University of Calgary terrorism expert Michael Zekulin. "He's very well-known for his public speaking," Zekulin told BuzzFeed Canada.
What's notable, though, is Abaaoud's quick rise from propaganda puppet to apparent Paris attack coordinator, Zekulin said.
There's no indication that Abaaoud has any real reach into Canada, Zekulin said. But he said the attacks in France represent a worrisome escalation in ISIS's ability to deploy its trainees. Before last weekend, the group had relied mostly on homegrown terrorists — like Zehaf-Bibeau — to carry out attacks in Western countries on their own.
The concern now, Zekulin said, is whether Canadian radicals who, like Abaaoud, left home to join ISIS could return to carry out similar attacks.
In April, Canada's spy agency said about 75 Canadians had travelled to Syria and Iraq to join extremist groups. One of them, Ottawa's John Maguire, appeared in an ISIS propaganda video last December, but has since been reported dead.
Canadian intelligence agencies are now likely looking to "put eyes on" anyone who's been abroad to join extremist groups and returned, Zekulin said. At the same time, he said, Canada is better insulated than Europe from potential terrorists by oceans that make getting into the country more difficult.
The RCMP said it "is concerned about any comments that praise terrorist activities." However, Const. Annie Delisle said the RCMP is unaware of any threats to Canada regarding the Paris attacks.
"Domestically, the RCMP has been in touch with operational police leaders in all regions of Canada to ensure a heightened awareness and vigilance in the wake of these attacks," she wrote in an email. She also said the RCMP's own anti-terrorism teams "have all been tasked to review their files and targets and to be vigilant for any inspirational effect these attacks may have."
Last October's attacks in Canada are referenced again in the same magazine issue.
In another article, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called upon followers in Western countries to carry out more attacks with whatever weapons they could find — including "a bullet" or "a car."
"Indeed, you saw what a single Muslim did with Canada and its parliament of shirk, and what our brothers in France, Australia, and Belgium did – may Allah have mercy upon them all and reward them with good on behalf of Islam," he's quoted as saying.
Zekulin said terrorist groups like ISIS are always eager to take credit for attacks against their enemies.
"Terrorism is all about the spectacular and about the claims that you can make, and the mystique that it provides; the fear, the anxiety that it creates."
Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. PGP fingerprint: 4A39 DD99 953C 6CAF D68C 85CD C380 AB23 859B 0611.
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