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Canadian catch leads to American anxiety


June 06, 2006

WASHINGTON - Senior U.S. officials are hailing Canada's anti-terrorism efforts, but critics warn that Islamic extremists lurking north of a porous border would inevitably strike American targets.

"Canadians have had a very great success in their counterterrorism efforts," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, adding "we don't know of any indication that there is a U.S. part to this."

But some U.S. politicians, fearing that lax security and the presence of a large Muslim population in Canada makes the country a natural staging ground for terrorist strikes, pointed to the arrests as a grim harbinger of future attacks.




"Americans should be very concerned," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "There's a large al Qaeda presence in Canada ... because of their very liberal immigration laws, because of how political asylum is granted so easily."

King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, blamed the former Liberal government, saying it was soft on terrorism.

Although only one known al Qaeda terrorist attack was launched from Canada at a U.S. target - the thwarted 1999 attempt by Ahmed Ressam to bomb the Los Angeles airport - many Americans still believe some of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackers infiltrated from Canada.

Canadian diplomats in Washington fight a constant, uphill battle to persuade skeptical U.S. lawmakers that Canada is not a terrorist haven.

The arrest, six weeks ago, of two Atlanta-area men who visited Toronto, allegedly to talk targets and tactics with fellow Islamic extremists, fueled that assumption.

Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, went on U.S. television over the weekend touting the arrests as evidence that Canada is a vigilant and reliable ally in what President Bush calls the global war on terrorism.

"We take very seriously these issues of terrorism, as demonstrated by this very successful exercise that was completed on Friday night, Saturday morning," Wilson told CNN.

Some terrorism experts believe operational al Qaeda cells are biding their time in Canada.

"There are bound to be others that we haven't uncovered," said Neil Livingstone, chief executive officer of GlobalOptions, a security firm in Washington and New York. "They are going to continue to plot and to organize and to acquire explosives. And, ultimately, they are going to cross the border and carry out some sort of attack here," he told NBC News.

Even among leading U.S. politicians who believe Canada has belatedly cracked down on Islamic extremists, there are demands for much tighter security along the border.

"These questions were raised long before these arrests," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "We've got a longer border with Canada than we do with Mexico. We have thousands of trucks that come in every day, many of them - most of them - not inspected. And particularly, by the way, garbage trucks from Ontario which cannot be inspected represent a real significant security threat."

The Bush administration says it has few worries about northern border security.

"We've improved border security immensely through technology and also through co-operation," Rice said. "So we are very comfortable with the counterterrorism co-operation with Canada and the border security co-operation."

Nevertheless, the arrests in Canada will almost certainly roil the already-contentious immigration debate due to resurface this week in Washington.

Although FBI spokesman Richard Kolko confirmed that the Canadian terror-cell plans posed "no current outstanding threat to any targets on U.S. soil," he also said "it does appear that there were contacts between certain suspects in Canada and two individuals recently charged in the United States emanating from this case."


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Ketchikan, Alaska