ALBERTA

Al-Shabaab Possible Threat Against West Edmonton Mall 'High Risk,' Security Expert Says

02/23/2015 10:10 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT
A video that appears to single out the West Edmonton Mall as a possible target by the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab "is a very serious threat" that could impact other Canadian shopping centres, says a former senior intelligence officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

In the recording, a masked member of the extremist group appears to call on followers to attack shopping malls across North America and Europe.

On Sunday, Edmonton police said they were working closely with RCMP and West Edmonton Mall security to ensure all necessary precautions are being made.

Deputy police Chief Brian Simpson noted: “This was a very general comment ... it wasn’t a specific threat.”

However, Michel Juneau-Katsuya, formerly with CSIS, says that is precisely what makes the threat more dangerous.

While he said CSIS and RCMP will be closely monitoring communications and links between Canadians and al-Shabaab​, “The challenge is that they don’t necessarily need to be in communication with al-Shabaab​ — they can simply sort of take the initiative, find weapons … and lead the attack.

“Just put the call out and somebody might answer it,” he said. “So that’s very difficult for the authorities to be able to predict — the who and where.”

Juneau-Katsuya also noted that shopping malls are notoriously difficult to secure, adding that Edmonton’s winter also means it is normal for people to be wearing bulky coats that can be used to conceal weapons.

“Definitely in terms of percentage of high risk, this is considered a very serious threat and the owners of the shopping mall as well as the authorities need to take that very seriously.”

Al-Shabaab in Canada

Asked "why Edmonton?" Juneau-Katsuya pointed out that al-Shabaab has used Canada as a site for recruitment in the past, and has “a certain amount of supporters.”

Several Canadians are known to have left the country to try to reach out to al-Shabaab. In 2014, one man was convicted and sentenced to 10 years for trying to leave Canada to join the terrorist group.

“It is unfortunately, not totally a surprise to see this sort of accumulation of events that leads to this situation where al-Shabaab is now trying — as ISIS has been trying — to reach out to their supporters, not necessarily to call them to come but to go into action,” he said.

Juneau-Katsuya also said Saturday’s video bears many similarities to the propaganda videos created by ISIS and shared on social media, identifying a specific target and group.

Al-Shabaab, which is known to be one of the most violent in East Africa, was behind the 2013 attack on a mall in Nigeria that left 60 people dead.

Also on HuffPost

Kenya Mourns Westgate Victims