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Teen terrorists: Does Canada have a youth radicalization problem?

The arrest of a teenager accused of plotting a terrorist attack against the Ottawa Jewish community is the latest sign that Canada is struggling with the radicalization of youths.

The minor, taken into custody on Friday night, was the second youth apprehended for terrorism in two days. On Wednesday, RCMP arrested a 16-year-old in Calgary over an unrelated plot.

The RCMP said Saturday it had arrested five youths for terrorism just in the past six months, and that it had seen a “concerning trend” of terrorists using the internet to recruit youths.

As a result, police said parents, as well as teachers and coaches, should be on the alert for the signs of radicalization.

“We’re asking adults in positions of authority to be alert for behaviors of concern which may be linked to violent extremism,” the RCMP said in a statement.

The Ottawa youth’s father told Global News his son had become “more religious.” “I warned him many times,” to stay away from “extremist people,” he said, and even arranged for his son to speak to an imam.

But he said his son was naive and may have been used by extremists.

“There are some people taking advantage of him,” the father said. “They are bad. They are not religious. They use religion. They use religion to achieve their goals, you know, their personal goals, private goals.”

Terrorist groups have long targeted youths, who can be more vulnerable to extremist propaganda, but the Internet has become a powerful recruitment tool.

In 2022, a 16-year-old Kingston, Ont. youth originally from Syria was sentenced to three years for plotting a pro-ISIS bomb attack. He had communicated with ISIS online.

Last month, a teen who subscribed to misogynist incel culture was convicted of attacking a Toronto massage parlour and killing a woman. He was 17 at the time.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has accused a 16-year-old ISIS supporter in Canada of taking part in a plot to conduct a mass shooting at a Shia mosque in Chicago.

The RCMP said parents should try to recognize the “signs of radicalization to violence” and intervene at an early stage.

Those indicators include associating with new social groups that support or promote violence, expressing antagonistic us versus them attitudes, or the belief that violence is the only solution to perceived problems, police said.

“Dehumanization of others; the conviction that their pain or suffering does not matter or is somehow deserved or just; Extreme anti-government attitudes; Clear statements of intention to carry out violent acts; Attempts to recruit or co-opt others to the cause,” RCMP said.

“If you have concerns that someone is considering, planning, or preparing to commit an act of violence or to help others in committing acts of terrorism, contacting your local police department would be a good first step. The sooner the better, as they may be able to help prevent someone from crossing the line into criminal actions.”

The Canadian government’s strategy to fight radicalization is focused partly on helping youths build “resilience” that will allow them to challenge extremist narratives.

But Canadian counter-terrorism police have made a series of arrests of minors in recent years, and disrupted attack plots by underage extremists.

According to the RCMP website, online content such as YouTube channels and games that push violent radical messaging are “proliferating quickly.”

Following a spike in recruitment by ISIS, the RCMP published a Terrorism and Violent Extremism Awareness Guide in 2017 that gave advice for parents.

It encouraged them to monitor the online activities of their children, speak to them about inappropriate content and help guide them when they are at risk.

“The internet poses a number of risks to young Canadians,” according to the RCMP publication “Youth Online and At Risk: Radicalization Facilitated by the Internet.”

While the RCMP said it monitored websites that recruit youths, the content is so pervasive that parents, teachers and community leaders need to be involved.

“The radicalization to violence of youth ultimately originates within specific communities. Therefore, it is essential for adults within these communities to be aware of the risks and with youth and available partners to counter radicalization.”

“Parents, teachers and caregivers want to provide guidance to keep young people safe in the real world and it should be no different when they venture online.”

Youth radicalization is not unique to Canada. In France, six teens were convicted a week ago over the 2020 beheading of a teacher who had shown his class an illustration of the Muslim prophet as part of a lesson on free expression.

Canada’s National Strategy on Countering Radicalization to Violence calls engaging youth “critical to challenging violent extremist and terrorist use of the internet and social media.”

It said the government prioritized funding for projects that “provide a better understanding of the risks faced by youth in the online space, and facilitates engagement between youth and key partners, such as technology companies, researchers and academics.”

“This engagement is meant to provide youth with the resources and capacity to develop and implement evidence-based online prevention initiatives such as alternative narratives and positive messaging.”

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&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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