Despite terror threat, shoppers continue to visit West Edmonton Mall
Published Monday, February 23, 2015 8:19AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 23, 2015 10:14PM EST
Parking lots were full and shoppers were not phased Monday, one day after the West Edmonton Mall was named a terror attack target by Somali terror group al-Shabab.
In an hour-long video posted to YouTube over the weekend, the al-Qaeda-linked terror group recapped its attack on Kenya’s upscale Westgate Mall in 2013 that left 67 people dead. A man whose face is concealed by a headscarf then calls for similar attacks on shopping malls in the United States, Europe and Canada, including the massive West Edmonton Mall.
Despite the threat, many shoppers still visited the mall Monday.
"There's always security there, every time you walk up and down the hall you see at least two together. So yeah, it's safe," Kristy Shields, a local student.
On Sunday, Edmonton Deputy Police Chief Brian Simpson said that while law enforcement is taking the threat seriously, no “specific threat” has been identified. But for some community members, it's not worth the risk right now.
"If we are being actually named as a spot, I don't want to have my children, or my family near there," said Renate Slottke.
Minnesota's Mall of America was also named as a target in the al-Shabab video. The mall had extra security Monday, including new signs around the shopping centre that read, "If you see something say something."
While Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Canadians should remain vigilant, he said there is no need for them to change their plans based on this threat.
"If I was in Edmonton today, I would go to the Edmonton Mall and do some shopping," Blaney told reporters Monday.
Edmonton is home to the third-largest Somali population in Canada. And the recent al-Shabab threat has many local Somalis talking on community radio.
"I definitely think we should be worried about it, and we should keep an eye on what's going on," said Jaamac Jaamac, a local radio host.
Canada unprepared for an attack
Terror and security expert John Thompson told CTV’s Canada AM that the country is “completely unprepared” for an attack on a shopping mall or other large public place. He said an attack like the one in Kenya is “not impossible” to execute here.
“It is one of the classics of the jihad movement, where they can get a number of gunmen into a place where they can control a large number of people. It’s an attack they’d dearly love to run inside the western world,” said Thompson.
“It’s very hard to mount an attack like that in North America, especially in Canada, but it’s not impossible.”
Urban police forces in Canada are “under-armed,” Thompson said, noting that while officers carry a handgun and possibly have a rifle or other long-barreled gun in the trunk of their patrol cars, they carry very little ammunition.
Calling in the military for back-up won’t work for an urban police force, he added, noting that, while reservists are well-trained, the reserve armories are not stocked with ammunition. And regular force combat units are “hours away” from major cities, he said.
“There will come a day when an attack like this will occur and we have to better prepare,” Thompson said.
In the video, a man who is completely concealed by a headscarf implores supporters to consider the impact in the West of an attack on ”the American- or Jewish-owned shopping centres across the world?"
"What if such an attack was to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota, or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada?"
Officials at West Edmonton Mall said Sunday that they have increased security measures, some of which will be visible to shoppers and some that may not.
No ‘specific threat’
Security expert Derek Humble said there is nothing in the “intelligence community chatter” to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the West Edmonton Mall.
However, like all such videos that include a call to arms, jihadist recruiters “throw it out there, trying to inspire people to go out and do things,” he said.
“The fear is that there’s somebody on the edge of being radicalized, maybe has access to some kind of weaponry and they see this and they know the property and go down and try to do something,” Humble told Canada AM. “You can’t discount that.”
The threat against the West Edmonton Mall comes as the Conservative government works to push through its new and highly controversial anti-terror legislation. The bill, C-51, passed second reading Monday night, bringing it one step closer to becoming law. It's now headed to committee phase.
With files from CTV’s Katie Simpson