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A top Canadian spy official said Monday that many potential terrorists already reside in the country and have trained in al-Qaida training camps, reinforcing publicly what many security analysts have warned of for years.
In testimony before a Senate committee studying Canada's role in Afghanistan, Jack Hooper, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's deputy director, said there are people living in Canada who fought alongside Afghani mujahedeen, or holy fighters, during the Soviet occupation of that country in the 1980s.
"I can tell you that all of the circumstances that led to the London transit bombings ... are resident here and now in Canada," said Hooper, CSIS's operations director.
The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defense held a full day of hearings on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan, and how it relates to security at home.
The hearings come as Canadians and some lawmakers voice growing concern over the deaths of Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan as part of a NATO force charged with weeding out Taliban fighters. Parliament voted earlier this month to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan until 2009.
The most recent of the 16 Canadian troops killed in the country since the 2001 US-led invasion was Capt. Nichola Goddard, who died on May 18 following fighting between insurgents and Canadian and Afghan forces in Kandahar.
Canada has about 2,000 soldiers based in Afghanistan, most of them in Kandahar.
In outlining the domestic threat, Hooper said that a Vancouver man trained the bombers in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar e-Salaam, Tanzania. Hooper did not provide further details about the man.
He pointed to several other examples of people who had lived in Canada, and later took part in terrorist attacks. A common thread was time spent at training camps in Afghanistan.
"When we talk about the homegrown terrorist phenomenon, these are people ... in most instances who are Canadian citizens," he said. "A lot of them were born here. A lot of them who were not born here emigrated to Canada with their parents at a very young age."
Hooper did not provide any specifics on numbers or their whereabouts.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli also told the committee that the Mounties and CSIS were working closely to thwart potential homegrown terrorists threats. The two agencies have been criticized for being at cross-purposes during the lengthy investigation into the 1985 Air India terrorist bombing that claimed 329 lives.
Committee chairman, Sen. Colin Kenny, said Britain's experience last summer should provide a wake-up call for the problems Canada could encounter with homegrown terrorists.
"They'd been born in the country," Kenny said of the men who detonated a series of bombs, killing 52 civilians and four terrorists last July 7. "They had all of the slang and comfort with the culture that you and I have, and yet, boom, here they are committing terrorist acts."
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