Radicals cashing in on Alberta’s oilsands to finance terror

TORONTO — Before heading abroad to join extremist groups such as Islamic State, some Canadians have been stopping first in northern Alberta to earn money to finance their terrorist activities, the chief of the Edmonton police says.

“You can go up to Fort McMurray … you’re relatively anonymous, you’re in one of those work camps and you can make a hockey sack of money in a very, very short period of time,â€� said Chief Rod Knecht.

At least three Canadians have worked short-term jobs in northern Alberta before joining Islamic State, including two from Ontario, a Postmedia News investigation indicates. The RCMP said Michael Zehaf-Bibeau had also worked in the oilfields before his deadly attack in Ottawa.

With thousands of high-paying seasonal jobs, northern Alberta attracts workers from across Canada. Although many energy companies conduct criminal background checks and drug screening, a prospective employee’s links to extremism are less obvious.

“And if you’re someone that wants to be left alone or works well in isolation, there certainly is the opportunity to do that,� the police chief said. “So yes, you can make a whole bunch of money in a very short period of time if that’s what you want to do, and you can do it in relative anonymity.�

Like most Canadian cities, Edmonton is experiencing a growing radicalization problem, the chief said. But as the gateway to the resource-rich north it is also dealing with extremists arriving from out-of-province in the hope of making fast money.

“We do see folks that are coming in here and they can make the money very easily and very quickly.�

Would-be jihadists need money for plane tickets and are sometimes required to buy their own weapons upon arrival in war zones. In many cases, they must also be able to sustain themselves without an income for months at a time.

A 15-year-old was charged in December with holding up a Montreal convenience store with a knife to finance joining a Middle East terrorist group. He made off with $2,000. He told police he believed it was a sin to live in Canada since it is not governed by Islamic law.

But several others with the same intentions have instead ventured to northern Alberta. Mohammed Ali, of Mississauga, Ont., has boasted online about earning a large salary in the western oilfields before leaving to join Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

Zehaf-Bibeau had also worked in the Alberta oilpatch before attempting to travel abroad.

It is alleged that he wanted to go to Libya, but Zehaf-Bibeau had trouble getting a passport and went to Ottawa to deal with the matter. On the morning of Oct. 22, he parked his car at the National War Memorial and murdered Cpl. Nathan Cirillo before rushing into the Parliament buildings, where he was shot dead.

Following the attack, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson said Zehaf-Bibeau had financed his “pre-attack activities� with money he made in the Alberta resource sector.

“He had access to a considerable amount of funds,� Paulson had said.

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