West Edmonton Mall named in al-Shabaab video as possible target
Edmonton police say there is “no imminent threat” to the city after the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab named West Edmonton Mall as a possible target in video online.
The video appears to call on followers to attack shopping malls in the United States, U.K., France, and Canada.
“This was a very general comment ... it wasn’t a specific threat,” said Brian Simpson, deputy chief of the Edmonton Police Service.
“However, we as a policing agency … absolutely paying attention to this."
Most of the recording posted to YouTube on Saturday glorifies the attack by the Somalia-based group on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where gunmen killed about 60 people in September 2013.
Close to the end of the nearly 77-minute video, a masked man with an English accent calls on "Muslim brothers to target the disbelievers wherever they are" and lists a number of shopping centres that could be attacked in the West.
"If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, then imagine what a dedicated mujahedeen in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned shopping centres across the world," the man says.
"What if such an attack was to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota, or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, or in London's Oxford Street, or any of the hundred or so Jewish-owned Westfield shopping centres dotted right across the western world?" he continues.
Both West Edmonton Mall and the Mall of America are owned by Canada's Ghermezian family, who are of Iranian-Jewish origins.
Other malls listed in the video include two in Paris, Les Quatre Temps and Forum des Halles.
CNN reports that al-Shabaab militants have recruited members in Minneapolis, home to the largest Somali population in the United States and the Mall of America.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told CNN the statement from al-Shabaab "reflects a new phase we've evolved to in the global terrorist threat."
Asked about the threat to Mall of America, one of the world's largest shopping complexes, Johnson said: "Anytime a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place, we've got to take that seriously." He advised people going to the Mall of America to be particularly careful.
On March 7, 2010, the Canadian government added al-Shabaab to the country's terrorist list, following claims that the organization is targeting Canadian youth for recruitment.
Police working with Somali community
Simpson said despite the lack of a specific threat, Edmonton police have reviewed its procedures when it came to safety in all of the city's malls. He said the services is working closely with RCMP and West Edmonton Mall security.
He said police have a "very good working relationship" with the mall, and that he is confident in the building's security.
"I would dare say they have one of the best systems that I’ve seen,” he said.
West Edmonton Mall also issued a statement Sunday, saying it will "continue to monitor events" with the help of law enforcement agencies.
"West Edmonton Mall has implemented extra security precautions; some may be noticeable to guests, and others won't be," the statement said.
The threats didn't keep most visitors away from the mall on Sunday, although many did noticed an increased security presence.
"I see more security guards walking around, paying closer attention to people,” said Rhea Schroeder, who frequently shops there. Still, she said she thinks the likelihood of something happening in the building is slim.
"I think it's safe here ... I would even take my kids."
Don Iveson, the city’s mayor, said residents “should not overact” in a statement. He added he was concerned that the video appealed directly to those of Somali descent to become involved.
“The Somali Edmontonians I know are hard-working, peace-loving, contributing members of our community and I fully expect they would be as offended as other Edmontonians at any suggestion of violence,” he wrote.
Simpson said Edmonton police is working closely with the city's large Somali community.
"Our best opportunity to deal with these ... type threats is to involve the community," he said.
“We know it works, we’ve seen it in action.”
He urged anyone that has witnessed anything suspicious to call authorities.
The RCMP said they have a number of investigations into radicalization open in the province, but nothing involving al-Shabaab.
Specializing in mall attacks?
Canada's Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, issued a statement following the threats.
"Canada will not be intimidated by threats from any terrorist organization, which is why we are not sitting on the sidelines and instead joining our Allies in supporting the international coalition in the fight against ISIL," he wrote.
"Our national security and law enforcement agencies are continually monitoring for threats against Canada and its citizens and will take the appropriate actions to ensure the safety of Albertans and all Canadians."
He said the incident showed a need to strengthen Canada's anti-terror laws. The Conservative government's proposed anti-terror bill, Bill C-51, is before committee this week.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said, while the al-Shabaab video contained "really important threats," Bill C-51 is not the answer.
He said the bill is too far-reaching and that the government has not explained what necessary new powers the bill would give police.
"I have confidence in our services and their ability to deal with [the threats]," he said, speaking with the CBC's Christine Birak Sunday.
"We've seen complaints and arrests in recent weeks. They have the tools to do their jobs. We have confidence in them."
Purpose is for 'air time'
Christian Leuprecht, a security expert in Kingston, Ont., at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University, says it's conceivable that shopping centres in North America could be targets because specific malls were named in the video.
"And we know that the three largest concentrations of Somali communities in Canada are in Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto," he said. "We also know that we have some Somali youth who appear to have disappeared from Edmonton and joined up with al-Shabaab."
Leuprecht said by naming malls, al-Shabaab appears to be trying to expand its reach as it carves out a niche among extremist groups.
"They're in competition with ISIS and with al-Qaeda for air time," he told CBC News. "And I think the primary purpose here is for them to get air time in the media, to show that they, too, are a group that requires attention by the West and that they, too, need to be taken seriously, as to their particular demands."