April 5, 2013 11:04 pm
Updated: April 5, 2013 11:06 pm

Nationalism and ‘religious obligation’ sending Canadian youth to join overseas terrorist organizations


TORONTO – The allure of fighting for a cause steeped in religious obligation is one of the reasons why more and more North American youth are choosing to join terrorist organizations overseas, says Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Canadian man who says he once fought alongside Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.

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Mohamed was working for Somalia’s government in 2006. He joined Al-Shabaab on the battlefield after the government was toppled and he found himself in a war against the Ethiopian army.

During a Global News live blog discussion on why North Americans choose to join terrorist organizations abroad, Mohamed explained that the horror of Muslim people being massacred is, for some, a decisive factor.

“It says in the Quran, ‘A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim’, therefore they believe they ‘owe’ a duty of care to defend the rights of ‘oppressed Muslims’, and if you die walking that line, then you are a martyr,” explained Mohamed.

One of those walking that line is Omar Hammami, an American jihadist in Somalia, who is also on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list.

“Those practicing Islam and in touch with reality realize that they can’t be good Muslims living in the west,” wrote Hammami during the live blog session.

The 28-year-old Alabama native came to Somalia for jihad in 2006 and tells Global News he remains to “finish what I started.”

He also says he wants to “try to correct the direction of jihad here… And there aren’t any safe roads out.”

Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are said to be drawing young and educated foreign fighters to its cause, something counterterrorism expert Clinton Watts says is often strategic.

“Recruits with special skills or prove to be effective fighters tend to be retained,” wrote Watts during the live blog discussion. “For other tasks, while those that really want a martyrdom operation, or aren’t particularly useful as fighters can fulfill other roles.”

The idea of North American youth joining terrorist forces overseas isn’t a foreign concept.

Just this week, RCMP confirmed the bodies of two young men from London, Ont., were among those found at the site of a deadly terrorist siege in Algeria.

The RCMP confirmed the human remains found belonged to Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas.

Both are believed to have played key roles in the January attack on a natural gas plant, which killed at least 38 hostages and 27 other militants.

The RCMP made a rare appeal for public assistance in its investigation to shed light on how the two men left Canada and who may have helped them.

“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.

It is not the first time a Canadian has been killed fighting with hard-line Islamic militants. William Plotnikov, of Toronto, was killed by Russian security forces in Dagestan last July, according to published reports.

Canadians have also been turning up in Somalia looking to join the al-Qaida affiliate Al Shabab.

As many as 60 young Canadians are known to have left the country to join extremists, according to recent testimony by CSIS boss Richard Fadden before a parliamentary committee.

These concerns are even leading some intelligence experts to call for wholesale changes in the way Canada tracks travelers going abroad.

Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of intelligence at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said the country should consider so-called exit controls, including the removal of a citizen’s passport if the person is deemed a threat.

“There has to be an easy way to trigger a denial of a passport – or the removal of somebody’s passport – if there is sufficient information to demonstrate this person has become highly radicalized and or made threats, or done things to threaten lives or the welfare and well being of others,” Boisvert said.

Still, as long as some North American youth feel like their beliefs are being attacked, some say the urge to go overseas to fight is a cause worth championing at all costs.

“While they may not agree 100% with groups like al-Qaida and others, they will have sympathy for them because of their depiction as vanguards of the faith; a depiction they put forward to entice others to join them,” says counterterrorism expert Mubin Shaikh during the live blog.

Meanwhile Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed says he returned to Toronto after the war, but soon noticed that other Somali Canadians were disappearing, believed to be headed to Somalia to fight for Al-Shabaab.

“Shabaab were a minority, they were just rising up. But they used that nationalism to gather support from the young,” says Mohamed.

As for Omar Hammami, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, living the life of a jihadist in Somalia is something he would never give up.

“I miss some aspects of American life like comforts, but enjoy my freedom and dignity to fight for Islam more,” he said.

You can review the full live blog discussion below:

-with files from Rebecca Lindell, Nicole Bogart, Lama Nicolas and The Canadian Press

© 2013 Shaw Media

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