OTTAWA (Reuters) - The number of people who have traveled overseas from Canada and are suspected of involvement in radical activities has grown, security officials said in a report that found the number of women leaving to join Islamic State was also on the rise.
At the end of 2015, 60 of what Canada calls “extremist travelers” had returned to the country, according to the annual report released on Thursday by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
These returnees are being monitored by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a top priority, Goodale’s spokesman said. Goodale has overall responsibility for law enforcement, including the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The main security threat comes from individuals acting alone or in small groups who are inspired by militant groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda rather than directed by them.
The report comes just two weeks after an Islamic State supporter who was in the final stages of preparing an attack on a Canadian city with a homemade bomb was killed during a police raid at his home in Ontario.
At the end of last year, the government was aware of about 180 individuals with a connection to Canada who were abroad and suspected of “engaging in terrorism-related activities”, the report said.
That is up from approximately 130 individuals in 2014. More than half of the 180 are believed to be in Turkey, Iraq or Syria, where the ongoing conflict has destabilized the region.
Women now make up about 20 percent of total extremist travelers from Canada, in some cases taking their children to conflict zones, the report said.
Although it is commonly assumed that women travel abroad to marry extremists, some may take on secondary roles within militant groups, while others appear to be taking part in combat, the report said.
It was the first major security report issued since the Liberal government came into power last year. The Liberals campaigned on a plan to scale back a 2015 law that gave increased powers to security authorities in the wake of two deadly attacks by homegrown radicals in 2014.
Since the thwarted attack earlier this month, the government has said it will continue with its plans to reform the law and is beginning national security consultations.
A gunman killed a soldier at Ottawa’s national war memorial before launching an attack on Parliament in October 2014, while a man ran down two soldiers in Quebec, killing one, around the same time.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Bernard Orr