January 15, 2014 8:30 pm
Updated: January 15, 2014 10:59 pm

Calgary man Damian Clairmont reportedly killed fighting in Syria


Above: A 22-year-old man who converted to Islam after dealing with depression and attempting suicide, somehow became radicalized and made his way to fight in Syria where he died fighting with an al-Qaeda-linked group. Jennifer Tryon reports

A Canadian man who converted to Islam and went to Syria to fight with rebels has reportedly been killed in the civil war-ravaged country.

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The death of Nova Scotia-born, Calgary-raised Damian Clairmont, who changed his name to Mustafa al-Gharib, was reported on Wednesday.

He was reportedly fighting with the al-Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra.

According to reports, al-Gharib was killed by the Free Syrian Army, in fighting near Aleppo. There was no clear indication of when exactly he died.

Foreign Minister John Baird acknowledged the reports of al-Gharib’s death to media in Washington D.C. on Wednesday and said “there is probably more than one Canadian fighting with the opposition.”

WATCH: Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird addresses death of Canadian in Syria

On a Twitter account belonging to Abu Turab Al-Muhajir, who describes himself on social media as an “‘American ‘Jihadi’ or [whatever] they are calling it,” a post about al-Gharib read: “My Bro….Abu Talha al-Canadi Executed by #FSA! InshAllah we will meet in Jannah! May Allah accept your Shahada!”

Al-Muhajir later tweeted that Abu Talha al-Canadi was “Damian Clairmont.”

Al-Muhajir’s original tweet included an image of al-Gharib along with a quote attributed to “Abu Talha Al-Kanadi.”

That quote was taken from a Sept. 2013 article in which al-Gharib exchanged correspondence with the National Post.

According to the National Post, the 22-year-old had been on the radar of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP before he left for Syria in November, 2012.

Al-Gharib was a high school dropout who converted to Islam after attempting suicide at age 17.

Troubled youth’s path to Syria

Muhammed Robert Heft, an anti-radicalization counsellor who works with new converts and serves as a liaison between the Muslim community and CSIS, said he corresponded with al-Gharib’s mother several times last year.

Video: Muhammed Robert Heft on Canadian killed in Syria

It was after CSIS informed the woman they had been keeping an eye on her son.

At the time she began speaking with Heft, she was still in contact with her al-Gharib. Heft had hoped to reach out to him as well.

“I couldn’t get in touch with her son because he didn’t want to speak to anybody but [his] mother,” Heft told Global News on Wednesday.

She said she noticed a positive change after he first converted to Islam, but “then she noticed he was becoming more secluded … rigid and intolerant,” Heft explained.

“He actually went to fight, but didn’t tell her. He told her he was going to study in Egypt,” Heft said. “He ended up going to Turkey and going through the [Syrian] border and joining al-Nusra.”

The Canadian government listed Jabhat al-Nusra as an “outlawed group” in November.

“According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Jabhat al-Nusra is an Al Qaida affiliated Sunni militant Islamist group in Syria. Jabhat Al-Nusra aims to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s Ba’athist regime, establish an Islamic state and expel the minority Alawite and Christian communities from Syria,” Public Safety Canada said on its website.

Public Safety Canada said Jabhat al-Nusra “has claimed responsibility for nearly 600 attacks” in which “numerous innocent Syrians have been killed.”

Jabhat al-Nusra is one of a number of groups Islamic militant groups fighting in Syria that have battled not only against government forces but also rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Nominally aligned with the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, that partnership – and those between many now-warring rebel groups – didn’t last. “Their marriage … was inevitably doomed,” Heft said.

Christian Leuprecht, an associate professor of political science and economics at the Royal Military College of Canada, told Global News CSIS did “their homework” on al-Gharib, but the young man went to Syria before Canada made it illegal in April 2013 to leave the country to take part in terrorist activity.

“Everyone who leaves or attempts to leave Canada, or goes or attempts to go on board a conveyance with the intent to leave Canada, for the purpose of committing an act or omission outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would be an offence under subsection 83.18(1) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years” the amended Combating Terrorism Act reads.

Heft said there are two types of people that choose to leave Canada for the battlefields of Syria.

He said there are Syrian-Canadians “who feel their family has been subjected to a tyrant” and then there are “overzealous converts or newly practicing people” who see Syrian conflict as “an indirect way to fight, fire off weapons, hate society and vent their frustrations.”

“One group, I would say, is legitimate in their concern and want to help their family, and one group is taking advantage of the fact that it’s a place they can go and be angry.”

© 2014 Shaw Media

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