Rebel fighter in Syria

Canada will join the US and Arab allies in launching air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, after prime minister Stephen Harper moved to extend the country’s military mission against Islamist terror groups.

The government tabled a motion in parliament to step up military action against Isis and to extend it to targets in Syria.

Mr Harper is trying to make terrorism a primary theme in national elections scheduled for October 19, and has said violent jihadis have declared war on Canada.

Mr Harper said in parliament on Tuesday that the mission in Syria is necessary to prevent the extremist group from establishing a safe haven there from which it can launch attacks across the globe. “In Isil’s view, anyone who does not accept its perverted version of religion should be killed,” Mr Harper said, referring to Isis.

So far, Canada has participated in the US-led coalition with air strikes in Iraq and provided air lift, logistical, and other support.

Canada has said the Syrian government is illegitimate and has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

“We will not seek the express consent of the Syrian government. Instead we will work closely with our American and other allies who have already been carrying out such operations against Isil over Syria,” Mr Harper said.

The motion extends Canada’s participation in air strikes up to March 30, 2016, well beyond Canada’s fall election, but stops short of committing ground forces.

The expansion of the operation further underlines the gap between Mr Harper and his main opponent, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who said the Liberals will oppose the motion. Mr Trudeau said the operation does not serve Canada’s interests or solve the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Canadian polling aggregator now shows the Conservatives and Liberals each with 33 per cent support nationally.

Mr Harper leads a majority government, and support for his party rose after the daylight killings of two Canadian soldiers last year: one was struck down by a car and another killed during an attack on Parliament Hill by a gunman inspired by extremists.

The Conservative party is pushing through a tough new antiterrorism law that would expand the powers of the security agencies in the wake of the attacks.

Terrorism is an issue on which the Conservatives could gather a larger base of voters, said David Coletto, head of polling firm Abacus Data. “If the Conservatives are able to consolidate those more conservative voters, they can get back to either a large minority or potentially a majority government,” he said.

But policy carries risks if the mission takes a bad turn, Mr Coletto said. Canadian Sgt Andrew Doiron died this month in a friendly fire incident in northern Iraq.

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