In January 2013, strewn amid the rubble and debris left after a terrorist attack on a gas plant in the Algerian desert were the remains of two men who had traveled far from home to wage what they viewed as a holy war.
The men had been friends in high school in Ontario, Canada, before they set off on a journey in 2011 that would take them to Morocco, Mauritania, a terrorist training camp in Mali and, ultimately, to their deaths in the sands of Algeria.
The forces that drove the men, Xris Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej, from their sedate life in Canada have only gathered momentum since then, both in Canada and in other Western nations.
In recent months, more than 100 Canadians have sought out conflicts in foreign lands from Somalia to Syria, according to a government report.
The threat was brought home for Canadians first on Monday, when a man who was inspired by Islamic extremists based overseas used his car to run down and kill a soldier in Quebec. The man was later killed by the police.
On Wednesday, Ottawa, the country’s capital, was locked down after a gunman shot and killed a soldier at a war memorial and then stormed the nation’s Parliament building. The gunman, who himself was fatally shot, was identified by the authorities as a young man who had recently converted to Islam.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who spoke to the nation from an undisclosed location Wednesday evening, said that while the motive behind the attack that day was under investigation, the act had clearly been meant to terrorize. He said the attack was a “grim reminder” of the threats that the country faces.
Harper has been a staunch defender of the effort to destroy the extremist group called the Islamic State. On Oct. 8, Canadian lawmakers voted to authorize the nation’s military to participate in the U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq.
“If left unchecked, this terrorist organization will grow and grow quickly,” Harper said when the measure passed. “They have already voiced their local and international terrorist intentions and identified Canada as a potential target.”
Harper was referring to comments made by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, an Islamic State spokesman, who sought to rally fighters to the group’s cause and urged individual Muslims to attack civilians.
Adnani exhorted them to “kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State.”
The threat of a “lone wolf” attack is a top concern for Western security agencies, including Canada’.