Martin Rouleau’s Attack on Canadian Soldiers Indicates Reach of Propaganda
When Canadian jihadist Martin Rouleau ran down two Canadian soldiers, Patrice Vincent and another one unnamed, in a hit-and-run on October 20, the method of attack seemed uncharacteristic of a jihadist. Jihadist attack efforts have typically leaned toward use of normal weapons—namely explosives, guns, and knives. Rouleau's attack, strangely, seemed to resemble an accident more than a terrorist attack. Based off of recent jihadist propaganda releases and chatter, Roulaeu's attack style may not be as much of an anomaly as it may be the beginning of a new norm in domestic terrorism.
One month earlier, on September 21 of this year, the Islamic State (IS) released an audio speech from its official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-'Adnani, in response to announcements of the US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria. In the speech, titled "Indeed, You Lord is Ever Watchful," ‘Adnani called the coalition strikes the "final campaign of the crusaders" and called on Muslims around the world to retaliate with violence. Along with America, he included residents of Australia, Canada, and France as fair targets by any means of violence. He instructed:
Do not ask for anyone's advice and do not seek anyone's verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.
‘Adnani then detailed several ways for executing attacks, some of which were unexpected. He stated that if jihadists did not have access to a weapons, he or she could resort to alternative means such as hitting targets with a car, as Rouleau did. He stated:
If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him. Do not lack.
The spokesman even included the outlandish alternative for those physically unable to perform an attack. "If you are unable to [attack a Westerner]," he stated, "then spit in his face."
‘Adnani's suggestions for attacks were widely distributed on social media. Among jihadists of numerous nationalities, Canadians have echoed the speech while calling for violence within the country. One such figure is "Abu Khalid Al-Kanadi," an alleged Canadian IS fighter in Syria who has regularly made such calls for violence on both his Twitter and Ask.fm pages. The user, as reported by SITE, tweeted recommendations to Muslims, telling them, "Fulfill your duty of Jihad in Canada," and bluntly called for Canadian Muslims to "retaliate & KILL [Canadians] WHEREVER YOU FIND THEM." On his Ask.fm, Kanadi even made a reference to ‘Adnani's call to spit on targets when he replied to a critic, "May Allah send someone to spit in your face."
Kanadi and other Canadian jihadists have already made use of Rouleau's attack. On October 21, Kanadi tweeted:
Muslims in Canada, follow the footsteps of our brave brother Martin Rouleau who took revenge for Canadian military aggression in our lands.
Another alleged Canadian IS fighter, "Muthanna al-Kanadi," tweeted:
Canada starting to pay the price of Intervention:
Convert to Islam ran down Canadian soldiers
Rouleau was not isolated from this propaganda. Though his Twitter page appears to have been previously cleared of content (containing followers but no tweets), posts from his Facebook page, along with his following and follower lists on Twitter (many of which are pro-IS jihadists), indicate that he was active in the online jihadist community.
On his Facebook page, Rouleau posted various jihadist images and statements that showed his radical views. Such content has included pictures of Usama bin Laden, calls to support the IS’ “Caliphate,” and posters from the Syrian foreign fighter and media grou, Rayat al-Tawheed. On October 17, Rouleau even gave a subtle omen to his coming attack when he set his Facebook profile picture to an artistic photo of two doors, one leading to fire (Hell) and the other into clouds (Heaven).
In addition, Rouleau's following list on Twitter indicates that his feed was filled with constant waves of jihadi propaganda, mainly from the IS. Accounts followed by Rouleau include "Ar Raqqah Media," a regular poster of IS releases, including "Flames of War" and "Lend Me Your Ears"; Abu Baraa, a convicted British inciter of terrorism who still releases pro-terrorist video speeches; and various other pro-jihadist and pro-IS accounts--at least two dozen of which being pro-IS media or indivudial accounts. Additional messages to presumably make it on his feed from those he followed were IS's October 14 "Message Of a Mujahid" video and the beheading video of David Cawthorne Haines. Thus, Rouleau's choice of using a car to attack the soldiers was most likely inspired by ‘Adnani's speech or related jihadist propaganda.
Rouleau's attack is a sobering reminder that domestic attacks from jihadists are evolving, and will resemble less and less those of previous years. Responding to the call by ‘Adnani to spit in the faces of citizens from coalition countries, pro-IS jihadists started a campaign September 29, 2014, suggesting that pro-IS Muslims spit on "Crusaders" and Shi'ites as a low-risk approach to jihad in which more jihad supporters could participate. A user on the forum housing the discussion call wrote, "Yes, there is one who will roll up his sleeves. Me and whoever is with me will drown them with our spit, and with their blood, too."
Though past jihadist publications have called for the use of a vehicle for terrorist missions, such as that by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the second issue of “Inspire” magazine to turn a truck into a “mowing machine,” these new attacks require no skills in turning normal objects into weapons. The attack by Rouleau on the two Canadian soldiers thus reflects the ever-changing methods of terrorism. The attack also serves as a reminder to those tracking jihadists that they must remain adaptive and always expect the unexpected.