At this point, it's too late.

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Canada Says Parliament Shooter Wasn't a Lone Wolf

Josh Rogin is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Early reports indicate that Man Haron Monis, who was behind yesterday's deadly hostage crisis in Sydney, was an unbalanced man acting alone and not an agent of Islamic State, despite his demand for one of the group's flags during the standoff. Many are seeing similarities between his actions and those of the gunman who stormed the Canadian Parliament in October. The New York Times said the incidents were caused by “a similar mix of personal disaffection and jihadist zealotry.”

But sometimes, early reports are later proved wrong. Several weeks after the Ottawa attack, Canada's top law-enforcement official now says that gunman was not only inspired by Islamic State, he may have been in direct contact with the group.

After 32-year-old Canadian Muslim Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed the Parliament building in Ottawa, shot a soldier on guard duty fatally in the back, made his way into the Hall of Honor, and opened fire before eventually being gunned down himself, Canadian officials said there was no evidence tying him to Islamic State.

But in late November, Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay told me in an interview that not only did the Canadian government believe that Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau, a Muslim who drove over two soldiers only days earlier, were radicalized by the Islamic State, they now suspect both men may have been in direct contact with the group.

“They were influenced by ISIS there is no question,” MacKay told me at the Halifax International Security Forum.

He said that Canadian intelligence and law-enforcement agencies were still trying to pin down exactly what sort of back-and-forth might have occurred between the homegrown terrorists and Islamic State. “I don’t know that for certain, we have that suspicion, let’s put it that way,” he said, referring to “statements both of these individuals have made to others.”

In the case of the Parliament Hill shooter, there is also evidence contained in a video that Zehah-Bibeau made before carrying out his suicide mission. The Canadian authorities have not released the full video to the public. MacKay said the attacker’s statements in it are “consistent with our belief that his motivations were very much as a result of being radicalized by the Islamic State.”

Before his attack in Ottawa, Zehah-Bibeau had applied for a visa to travel to Libya, but was rejected, and his mother later said he had trying unsuccessfully to get to Syria. Instead, he kept his jihad at home. MacKay said that Canada and other Western countries must pay far more attention to locals who are in risk of being radicalized through contact with jihadis online.

“I won’t say that they were not on our radar, but they were not at the top of the heap, which has caused a bit of a rethink,” he said. “It is a more insidious and more difficult challenge, when these are homegrown.”

The Canadian government has been tracking about 100 Canadian citizens who traveled abroad to participate in the wars in Iraq and Syria, a subset of which have returned to Canada. But now it is shifting its priorities to reflect that some of the most dangerous terrorists will never travel abroad. Ottawa is pushing a new law that would broaden police powers to conduct surveillance and ease preventive detention. The changes are controversial but necessary, according to MacKay, adding that if such laws had been in place before the Ottawa shootings, “We might have been able to pick up and even deter some of the signals that were coming from these individuals.”

Australia is only the latest Western country to realize that fighting terrorists abroad does not necessarily prevent us from having to fight them at home as well, and might make it more likely. The U.S. and the U.K. have known this for some time. Canada learned that lesson the hard way in October.

But there’s still scant cooperation or consensus between Western countries about how to combat domestic radicalization, which ultimately means combating the ideology of groups like Islamic State in the public space and online, not just killing its members on the battlefield.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net