Posted on January 28, 2019

Arrests in Terror Plot Raise Questions About Canada’s Refugee Embrace

Ian Austen and Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, January 25, 2019

A youth was charged on Friday with “facilitating a terrorist activity” in eastern Ontario and trying to persuade a friend, who is a Syrian refugee, to plant a bomb in a public place. The refugee was released from custody although the possibility of charges against him remain.

The youth who was charged was not identified, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would not describe him. But the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Press news agency identified his friend as Hussam Eddin Alzahabi, 20, one of about 52,000 Syrian refugees who have come to Canada.


With the Syrians’ arrival, Canadians swiftly embraced a program that allows individuals or groups to bring refugees to their country provided that the Canadians are willing to meet all of their needs for at least one year. While the program is a source of pride for many Canadians, Mr. Trudeau’s opponents on the right have long raised concerns that it could leave the country vulnerable.

Though little is known about the bomb plot case, it could fuel a right-wing backlash against refugees similar to that in Germany, which has also admitted large numbers of asylum seekers.


Although he did not mention Mr. Alzahabi by name or discuss his background, Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, said in a statement that the arrests made it “clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined.”

“We’ve recently learned of several examples of dangerous individuals entering the country due in part to lax screening procedures,” Mr. Scheer said.


Superintendent Peter Lambertucci of the Mounties, who heads one of its counterterrorism units in Ottawa, said that while Mr. Alzahabi and his friend had developed an “attack plan,” they had no target or date. And while the police seized materials that could be components for a bomb, they said the two had not built one. The police would not answer questions about a possible motive or ideology fueling the plot.


A group of four churches in Kingston sponsored Mr. Alzahabi’s family, said Alex Pierson, the executive director of the Anglican Diocese of Ontario. Citing privacy reasons, he declined to say when the family arrived, other than that it was more than a year ago.

An annual report for one of the churches indicates that Mr. Alzahabi arrived from Kuwait with his father, Amin Alzahabi, his mother and three siblings after their home in Damascus, Syria, was destroyed. Amin Alzahabi, the report said, had been jailed for political reasons and “would be vulnerable to arrest and ‘extreme measures’ should he and the family return home.”