New terror charges laid against Ottawa teenager for plotting explosion attack against Jews

Social media post from Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe, Dec. 16, 2023.

The Ottawa teenager charged with facilitating the building of a terrorist bomb targeting Ottawa’s Jewish community, will be back in court for further hearings on Wednesday afternoon.

The youth, who can’t be named because he is underage, was arrested by the RCMP on Friday, Dec. 15 after a coordinated investigation with CSIS, the OPP, Ottawa Police and the RCMP’s national terrorism unit.

After the teen made a court appearance on Saturday in Ottawa on two terrorism charges, including helping someone find instructions on how to build a bomb, police have subsequently charged the teen with another three crimes.

These were added Monday, after police raided the teen’s Ottawa home. The RCMP said in a media release that officers found materials that are used to create explosive devices. The federal police didn’t reveal exactly what the explosive materials were, or whether a bomb had already been assembled.

The teen is scheduled to be in Youth Court at 1:30 p.m. ET, according to a spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

He has been held in custody since his arrest.

The Ottawa teenager appeared in court on Monday, Dec. 18, to face two serious terrorism charges, after being picked up by the RCMP’s national security unit investigating a possible but foiled plan involving an explosive substance and instructing someone to mount an attack on the Jewish community in Ottawa.

The teen appeared was initially charged with “facilitation of a terrorist activity by communicating instructional material related to an explosive substance” and “knowingly instructing, directly or indirectly, a person to carry out a terrorist activity against Jewish persons.”

While details are scarce, the penalty for an adult convicted under the first charge carries a maximum prison term of up to 14 years. The penalty for the second charge is life in prison.

Ottawa Jewish community briefed

Ottawa police called Sarah Beutel, the head of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, on Saturday, before the RCMP news release was made public just after 5 p.m.

“It drives home the point of how scary this is … because we’ve allowed this situation to fester,” Beutel said.

Beutel was referring to an explosion of antisemitism after Oct. 7 in Canada, when Hamas terrorists slaughtered 1,200 Israelis and took 240 others hostage into Gaza. The attacks triggered a war with Hamas in Gaza.

But there has been also been an alarmingly steady increase of antisemitic incidents over the past several years, with Jews remaining the most targeted religious group in Canada, despite comprising 1 percent of the population.

“We have been raising the alarm for a very long time and people in leadership positions have not taken it seriously enough, in high schools, on university campuses, in workplaces, where there are unions, who are coming out with all kinds of things,” Beutel said.

Sarah Beutel
Sarah Beutel is interim-CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. (Submitted photo)

Since the RCMP arrest, Beutel has heard personally from the city’s mayor, Mark Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe also posted on social media that he was “shocked” to learn the details of the planned attack against the Ottawa Jewish community.

Saying he was “grateful” and “relieved” that the RCMP and Ottawa police were able to avert the event before it happened, he pledged the city’s police force will continue to patrol synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

According to Beutel, that is what she has been assured.

“Police continue to be on the Jewish Community Campus and have committed to continuing patrols of Jewish institutions,” Beutel told The CJN on Tuesday.

Until last weekend, the Ottawa police had informed Federation that patrols would scale back around Jewish community buildings once school closes for the Christmas break.

“The situation has changed over the weekend, and we will be in communication with them again this week to understand and to plan ahead to make sure that we have the necessary security measures in place to keep our community safe in January,” said Beutel.

Despite the weekend development, she did not advise anyone in the community to cancel regularly scheduled prayer services, classes, or other Jewish activities.

“You cannot allow this to stop us from living our lives. We have to be careful and vigilant,” Beutel said.

Hate speech leads somewhere

The Ottawa Jewish Federation sent out a message Sunday to members of the community advising them that after the teenager’s arrest, police have reassured them there is “no risk to persons or property related to this individual”. However, Beutel has been hearing what she described as “lots of nightmare scenarios” from community members about what they imagine could have happened.

While Canadian Jewish leaders are thankful the RCMP and its partners were able to make an arrest in this case, they feel it is beyond time that federal lawmakers do more than condemn antisemitism and issue statements saying things like “There is no room for hate in Canada.”

“At the end of the day, we know that young people are being radicalized online and that we need to take action in Canada and do something about it,” Beutel said, referring to the Liberal government’s failed attempt since 2020 to bring in legislation to crack down on online hate speech, including terrorist content and antisemitism.

In June 2021, then-heritage minister, Pablo Rodriguez, tabled Bill-C36 in the House of Commons, a bill designed to combat online harm. But the legislation didn’t proceed because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an election shortly after.

The Liberals’ 2021 campaign platform even highlighted the government’s intention to make good on the online harms law, and promised it would be introduced within the new government’s first 100 days. After winning a third election, that deadline has long since passed.

Opposition to the law has been based on fears such a law would stifle free speech.

Sarah Beutel of the Ottawa Jewish federation says the legislation is overdue.

“Our job is to continue to work tirelessly to get officials and leaders at all levels to start to take effective action that’s meaningful and that has consequences for people who are using hateful speech, because hateful speech leads somewhere,” she said.

“It started online, they got radicalized online, we know that we see that, and the government needs to take effective action to combat online hate.”

CIJA and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto reaction

On Saturday, Ottawa police also briefed officials at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. While CIJA is also grateful a terrorist attack was thwarted, and relieved that there appears to be no further danger at the moment from this teenager, they fear that isn’t the end of it.

“We’ve been telling authorities and law enforcement that there was a very worrisome rise of antisemitism, that it was radicalization happening,” said Richard Marceau, CIJA’s vice-president for external affairs, and general counsel. “We’re seeing the results of that rise.”

Similarly, Canada’s largest Jewish community was also briefed by police.

According to Noah Shack, the vice-president for countering antisemitism at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, his team is grateful that law enforcement managed to catch the plotter before anything happened. However, while it’s “terrifying” that these kinds of things are happening, he said no one is shocked by it.

“Hateful words lead to hateful acts and we’re certainly seeing a lot of hateful rhetoric about Israel, about Jews, being pushed out, whether in the public square or online in particular,” Shack told The CJN. “Hateful words don’t just die off on their own.

“They inspire people to act and I think that’s a really important thing that we need to focus on as a society as we’re trying to deal with this problem.”

7 European terror arrests, several linked to Hamas

Shack noted that the arrest came during the same week as police in three European countries picked up suspects thought to be linked to, or even members of, Hamas. Authorities in Berlin said the suspects were plotting attacks on Jewish community targets in Europe.

Police in Germany and in Denmark announced they’d arrested a half-dozen suspects on terrorism-related charges, and in the German case, who had direct ties to Hamas.

The German case involved four Hamas members who were suspected of attempting to retrieve a cache of weapons in Berlin to be used in attacks on European Jewish targets. Three suspects were picked up in Germany, and the fourth in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

Danish authorities did not directly tie the arrests of three people in Copenhagen with Hamas.

“The fact that these are plots that were in motion means that it’s something that we need to be concerned about, and not in an isolated way as a Jewish community, but more broadly, because a terrorist attack on any of us is an attack on all of us, is an attack on the values of our society,” Shack said.

Similar to Toronto 18 arrests from 2006?

The charges against the Ottawa teen come 17 years after Canadian police foiled an al-Qaida inspired plot, that saw a large group of young, Toronto-based, mainly Muslim men arrested beginning in June 2006. They came to be known as the Toronto 18.

Some had intended to attack Parliament Hill and take hostages, then behead then-prime minister Stephen Harper.

Others trained at a military-style camp, and were preparing to assemble explosives for truck bombs designed to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, a military base, and the CSIS headquarters, before members would take over the CBC and broadcast their manifesto.

It never happened.

Canadian law enforcement caught wind of the plot and infiltrated the group, selling them phoney fertilizer that would not have been able to explode.

Eleven of the suspects were convicted of terrorism-related charges and sent to prison for sentences lasting between two years and life. All but two are now out of custody.

Professor David Hofmann, is the director of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Program at the University of New Brunswick. He’s also a member of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS). The group is composed of Canadian university academics who research extremist groups in Canada.

Hofmann has published extensively on the radicalization of terrorists in the Toronto 18 case.

While he wasn’t privy to insider details of the RCMP’s latest arrest, Hofmann believes the suspect in this case sounds a lot like the members of the Toronto 18: young Canadian men, mostly Muslims, who were radicalized by watching online propaganda coming out of the Middle East at the time, which led them to want to strike a blow here at home on behalf of al-Qaida.

Hofmann also surmises from the charges, that there was a level of group organization going on, which is not the typical method of lone wolf actors who support the white supremacist, neo-Nazi right-wing extremist groups.

“There was some sort of direction and there was some sort of facilitation, which implies there’s a group, which implies there’s more sophistication,” Hofmann told The CJN in an interview from Kingston, Ont. “My gut feeling here is that this falls a little bit more under the same vein of homegrown terrorism that we saw akin with the Toronto 18.”

Professor David Hoffman
David Hofmann, a professor at the University of New Brunswick, is a terrorism expert and a director of the criminology and criminal justice department. He feels this is probably homegrown terror akin to what happened in 2006 with the Toronto 18 foiled terrorist attack in Ontario in support of al-Qaida. (Submitted photo)

According to Hofmann, it’s likely the teenaged suspect came to the authorities’ attention thanks to a tip from someone he knows. 

Indeed, the RCMP pointed out that the force didn’t act alone on last week’s incident.

In their news release, they credit the efforts of Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, as critical to the arrest. They also worked with the Ottawa Police, the Ontario Provincial Police’s anti-terrorism section, and a special body inside CSIS headquarters in Ottawa known as the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre.

Hofmann speculated that the RCMP was likely called in only once officials were ready to have police actually get involved on the ground.

“At some point along the way, this youth probably either projected or shared his plan and someone believed enough in the Canadian justice system and the Canadian policing system to approach the RCMP and have something done,” he said. “So this is a success in the sense of Canadian values. This is a success in preventing violence. And this is a success in the sense that someone had the moral fortitude to stand up and probably turn in someone very close to them.”

As to what may have motivated the youth to act in such a way that he came to the attention of the RCMP and terrorism experts, Hofmann is speculating, but believes it is likely the same thing that motivated the Toronto 18.

In the 2006 case, it was propaganda videos on the internet from al-Qaida and other militant Islamic terrorist groups that convinced the accused to plot such a massive attack that Canada would pull its troops out of Afghanistan. The Canadian army pulled its forces out in 2014.

“There’s similar narratives, there’s absolutely efforts by Hamas to engage in ‘Palywood’, the term is, to vilify Israel,” Hofmann explained, referring to the term some people now use to describe propaganda videos on social media showing purported Palestinian victims, who turn out in subsequent viral videos to be very much alive and well.

“In times of heightened propaganda and messaging like this, where lots of images, lots of emotions, where these individuals who consume the media can project their own feelings, they see themselves as in this whole entire suffering narrative, they feel impelled to do it,” he said.

“I mean, this is something awful but perhaps not unexpected.”

  • Hear David Hofmann explain why Canadians should be concerned abour extremism, on The CJN Daily

Violent extremism of teenagers a concern: RCMP

The RCMP took special care Saturday to warn that it is seeing a “concerning trend of violent extremism and terrorist use of the internet, including amongst young persons,” the media release said.

The police are appealing to Canadian parents, coaches and teachers to be vigilant for signs of radicalization of young people, and urge them to call police before anything serious happens.

Some of these signs are if the young person starts hanging around with new friends who promote violence, like to dehumanize other members of society, hold extreme anti-government attitudes, actually mention carrying out violence against certain groups, or try to recruit others to do so, according to the RCMP release.

Global News reported that the Ottawa suspect’s father had tried to convince the teen to consult with an imam about his activities. The CJN has not been able to independently confirm the suspect’s identity or the father’s remarks.

The RCMP isn’t saying whether this new young Ottawa suspect is in any way linked to a series of recent arrests the force has carried out since June in Calgary, so far picking up four young people in Calgary on terrorism charges.  All the Alberta activity seems to have happened before Oct. 7 and was related to the promotion of social media videos and posts about the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaida, including recruiting videos, and instructions on how to make an explosive device.

On Dec. 13, a fourth person was arrested and charged in Calgary by the RCMP with terrorism-related offences.

Three of the four are teenagers and were released under peace bonds that contain conditions that they stay away from LGBTQ events and from synagogues.

The latest youth, who is 16, and can’t be named, is scheduled for his next court appearance Jan. 5.

The two other teens and a 20-year-old man were picked up earlier this year for the same investigation, which court testimony heard involved Snapchat and TikTok posts talking about killing gay people during Pride Week, and blowing up a synagogue.

Zakarya Hussein, 20, pleaded guilty to one terrorism charge. He will be sentenced in 2024.

Meanwhile, the RCMP picked up two Ontario men on Dec. 6 on charges they have been working to create propaganda for far-right neo-Nazi groups including Atomwaffen Division, the Active Club Network and a social media channel on Telegram that distributes white supremacist material including how to carry out racially motivated attacks. The pair, one from Thorold, Ont. and the other from Toronto, were being held pending bail hearings.