A new report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the dawning of 2000 -- a mystical event for some groups -- could prompt an "increase in the frequency and nature" of terrorist incidents.
The CSIS report on terrorism trends indicates Western countries such as Canada are particularly vulnerable because they have many tempting targets, including sophisticated power and communication networks.
"The approach of the millennium is considered to raise the potential for independent action by individuals with extreme beliefs, especially those associated with cults, increasing the possible resort to a chemical, biological or nuclear radiation device."
A draft version of the CSIS report was obtained by the Ottawa Citizen under the Access to Information Act.
It also confirms that many of the world's terrorist groups have a presence in Canada, sometimes arranging and directing activities abroad.
"This is a particular problem with some members of Sikh terrorist groups whose leadership continues to endeavour to use Canada as their headquarters."
Terrorist groups or front organizations acting on their behalf in Canada include Hezbollah, Hamas, the provisional Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Members come to Canada to obtain weapons, raise money, build support or establish a base to "enable groups to send in hit teams to attack targets of opportunity."
The report also underscores the threat from North American terrorists, including militia groups, neo-Nazis and racists, as well as extremists involved with animal rights, environmentalism and anti-abortion causes.
CSIS says violent groups aiming to protect animals and green spaces have resorted to sabotage, tree-spiking, pipebombs and other terror tactics. "Although a small element in Canada, they can be dangerous and destructive."
The report notes that improved security and co-operation have contributed to a notable drop in the number of international terrorist incidents during the last 10 years.
"However, despite such progress, terrorist violence in many parts of the world will continue to promote an uncertain security environment."
It concludes that violence fuelled by religious extremism or ethnic nationalism pose the most serious threats.
CSIS points to disturbing trends, including random attacks on foreign aid workers, hostage-takings in South America and the former Soviet Union, and growing use of the Internet by terrorists to communicate, spread propaganda, raise funds and plan operations.
The report says Canada is fortunate not to have been routinely singled out by terrorists, despite the country's relatively high-profile involvement in the former Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf.
"Canadians abroad, however, must recognize the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and, because of physical resemblance, of being mistaken for Americans."
Canadian humanitarian workers have been killed in Chechnya and Rwanda.
A second CSIS report, focusing on terrorism and violent political conflicts, says the majority of groups and individuals that come to the attention of the service's counter-terrorism program are involved in struggles taking place in their homeland.
"The problem of spillover of violence from conflicts abroad remains a significant concern for the Canadian security community," says the report.
Violent groups not only use Canada as a base to fight foreign battles, but can become a haven for people involved in atrocities, says CSIS.
"Significant numbers of persons associated with, or involved in, war crimes and crimes against humanity are attempting to enter Canada through the refugee and immigration stream," says the report.
"Denying entry to war criminals and removing those who have gained entry by concealing their activities are serious concerns."