OTTAWA – The RCMP is making a rare appeal for public assistance in its investigation into two young Canadian men who died while participating in a deadly January attack on an Algerian gas plant waged by al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Medlej and Katsiroubas were high school friends from London, Ont., both in their early 20s, who travelled to North Africa together. The pilgrimage took a gruesome turn after a four-day standoff at the isolated plant left 38 hostages and 29 militants dead. The group that stormed the plant was allegedly led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
“The RCMP is interested as part of our investigation in determining the circumstances that led to Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas departing Canada,” said Supt. Marc Richer.
He asked anyone with information about this case, or information on any other cases of people considering leaving Canada to engage in terrorism, to call 1-800-420-5805.
“People tend to look to the police and the police having all the answers, the reality is we need the public’s help,” Richer said.
The two young men grew up in an affluent Ontario city and attended London South Secondary School together. Katsiroubas was raised Greek Orthodox, but converted to Islam.
Richer would not disclose who or what else it is investigating. When asked whether more Canadians may be identified, Richer would only say the work with respect to the human remains in Algeria is ongoing.
Richer deflected questions about Aaron Yoon, another London-native reported to be jailed overseas.
Yoon, a Korean-Canadian, was friends with Medlej and Katsirbous, converting to Islam from Catholicism around the same time.
“We cannot go into details, speculation or association, or guilty-by-association of different individuals that the media might be linking,” he said, referring questions back to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The department confirmed on Wednesday that it is aware of a Canadian who has been detained abroad.
It was news to Yoon’s family, who a day earlier, told Global News that Aaron was not in trouble and not in jail.
“That’s what we believed at the time. We weren’t trying to hide anything,” Yoon’s brother, who wished to remain anonymous, told Global News on Thursday. “Our family is finding out the same time as all Canadians, the same time as everybody.”
Canadian intelligence agencies have long spoken publicly about the risk of homegrown terrorists, a fear confirmed by the Algerian prime minister, who, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, said two Canadians were among the militants.
Canada wasn’t able to confirm the reports right away, but in March the RCMP said one Canadian was among the dead. The second Canadian was identified later that month.
“Radicalization is not a new phenomenon. It is not exclusive to any ethnic or interest group, any one religion, any specific socio- or economic class, ideology or political view,” Richer said.
He added that the RCMP has been working with communities to combat the process of radicalization and educate people about its risks.
With files from Jennifer Tryon.
© Shaw Media, 2013