Police cordon off a street leading to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday Oct. 22

Ottawa attack brings risk of ‘grotesque overreaction’ against Muslims

Bolstered security inevitable, many questions persist: SFU expert

Expect an inevitable tightening of security at government buildings in the wake of Wednesday’s attack on Parliament Hill and the danger of a “grotesque overreaction” by some Canadians against Muslims.

That’s the prediction from SFU criminology professor Rob Gordon, an authority on terrorism, in the wake of the attack Wednesday in Ottawa.

The Canadian-born gunman who shot and killed a soldier at the National War Memorial and then died forcing his way into Parliament is reported by the Globe and Mail to have had growing interest in Islam, praying at a Burnaby mosque before becoming unwelcome there, and whose passport had been confiscated as a travel risk.

(The gunman has since been identified by authorities as Michael Zehaf Bibeau, a man reportedly known to police in Vancouver and Montreal. On Thursday, the suspect’s mother Susan Bibeau addressed the incident in Ottawa in a telephone interview with the Associated Press: “We are sorry,” she said. “If I’m crying it’s for the people. Not for my son.” In a later email with AP, she said, “I am mad at my son, I don’t understand and part of me wants to hate him at this time… I his mother spoke with him last week over lunch, I had not seen him for over five years before that… So I have very little insight to offer.”)

Gordon said he has no doubt the attack was a “classic terrorist act” of revenge in response to Canada’s recent move to participate in the air war against ISIS in Iraq.

“It’s a tragedy for the Muslim communities in Canada because people will be extra careful around them,” Gordon said. “It’s going to test the boundaries of our tolerance. Hopefully people will not succumb to base emotions and will continue to treat ethnic and religious minorities in the same way they would want to be treated themselves.”

He said the attack does not appear as sophisticated or successful as might have been expected had attackers been trained in the Middle East – a scenario that might have involved multiple synchronized attacks with bombs.

Instead, he said, it appears more likely to be an ISIS-inspired attack by a homegrown sympathizer without direction from organizers in Damascus or Baghdad.

“It’s to try to deter and to demonstrate they have the power to bring the war to Ottawa – that you can’t sit thousands of miles away and expect to get away with it.”

Gordon said more attacks are probable, adding various softer targets could be vulnerable.

Remembrance Day is coming soon and will be a major test of bolstered security.

“Major cenotaph gatherings have to be watched very carefully, if not cancelled.”

As for Parliament Hill, Gordon said security there was clearly inadequate in light of how close the gunman got to MPs and cabinet ministers, including the prime minister.

He said he’s surprised there was no apparent move to bolster security on Parliament Hill – a “very obvious target” – in light of Monday’s attack against soldiers in Quebec by a man RCMP had previously identified as a “radicalized” threat.

“That would have signalled to me the need to ramp up security at all potential targets.”

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