Farah Mohamed Shirdon, a Calgarian in his early 20s, left to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Reports circulated in August saying he was dead, but he has now appeared in a video interview with Vice.
Ottawa – A Calgary man who was rumoured to be dead after travelling to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria appears to be alive and has conducted a video interview with media outlet Vice.
Farah Mohamed Shirdon, of Calgary, first came to attention in an ISIS video released earlier this year in which he tears up his passport andmakes threats against the enemies of ISIS — naming both Canada and the U.S.
In August, CBC reported that social media postings were saying thatShirdon had been killed in Iraq.
But after seeing reports that Shirdon may in fact still be alive, Vice used social media to track him down and arranged a video interview that Vice says took place on Sept. 23.
Vice says the interview, conducted by founder Shane Smith, was done on Sept. 23. Vice notes that the man Smith is speaking with is thought to be Shirdon. CBC producer Nazim Baksh, who has followed the story closely, says that the man in the video is in fact Shirdon, a former Calgary resident who studied at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
In the video released by Vice, the man said that nobody recruited him, and that he is just one of thousands of foreign fighters who have travelled to Iraq.
“No one spoke a single word to me,” he said. “I opened the newspaper, I read the Qur’an – very easy.”
He said intelligence officials came to him “five or six days” before he left Canada.
“This is the truth,” he said. “All of their intelligence workers are imbeciles…FBI, CSIS.”
“I can’t believe how someone that has extremist, terrorist ideologies was sitting in front of you and you didn’t capture them,” he said. “The next time they saw me, they saw me ripping up my passport.”
In the video interview, he talks about what drove him to join ISIS and he makes several threats against foreign targets, including New York City.
A Calgary Imam sees the latest video as propaganda aimed at young Muslims who have grievances against the West.
“They will be definitely influenced,” said Syed Soharwardy. “They will be motivated by this video and that’s what the huge danger is. So this is a recruitment video for those who are still on the borderline and then also it’s going to create backlash against Muslims and that’s what they want.”
Soharwardy, the founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, has been a vocal opponent of ISIS in the past. He went on a 48-hour hunger strike in August to protest the beheading of an American journalist James Foley.
The Vice video was released a day after a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday that focused on the problem of foreign fighters.
Canada was a co-sponsor of the resolution, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper itemized a number of steps Canada is taking to try to stem the flow of foreign militants.
“The number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq is, of course, not only aggravating an already dangerous regional security situation, but, for us, it involves the risk that individuals may return home with knowledge and experience gained in terrorist activities to motivate and recruit others and potentially to conduct attacks,” Harper said.
The prime minister also said Wednesday that Canada is considering offering further assistance to the campaign against ISIS after a request from the U.S.
The National Post reported that Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud, identified by former classmates as a Hamilton man, has been identified online as an ISIS fighter who has been killed in Syria.
A Hamilton family fears that their son, who had begun shunning the local Muslim community as too moderate, has died in battle alongside Islamic State extremists in Syria.
Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud’s family “have not heard it officially, but they’re accepting it as if it is the case,” said Hamilton lawyer Hussein Hamdani, who is acting as family spokesperson.
Mohamud, 20, reportedly died recently following a fight between Kurdish forces and Islamic State fighters in northern Syria. As is often the case in conflict zones, official confirmation and details are difficult to come by — media reports were based on anonymous posts to jihadist websites.
The young man’s death hit his family extra hard because two months earlier, they had alerted both CSIS and the RCMP that Mohamud may have become radicalized. It was the family’s frantic bid to prevent him from crossing into Syria from Turkey.
“They contacted me and said: ‘We need to tell the RCMP and CSIS right away, this is not right,’” Hamdani recalled.
Both agencies met with the family, and tried to find ways to thwart Mohamud’s entry into Syria.
They failed, and four days after he’d surprised his family by flying unannounced to Turkey, he texted his mother to say he was in Syria alongside his “brothers.”
Two months later, CSIS officials visited his family here to tell them that while there was no official confirmation, jihadists were announcing their son’s death on their websites.
“They’re devastated. They know they were only one or two days late and (if) they could have caught him on the plane . . . we could have a whole different story,” Hamdani said.
As it is, the story’s far from complete.
Mohamud’s family came from Somalia, but the outgoing and smiling young man grew up in Hamilton and attended first St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School before switching to Sir Allan MacNab Secondary in 2012.
On social media Wednesday, former teachers and fellow students reacted mostly with sadness and disbelief; he was remembered as an engaged, outgoing and notably happy student.
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board chair Pat Daly described Mohamud as a “good student” and “active in the school.”
Hamdani said after graduating from MacNab, Mohamud attended York University and was on track for a career in medicine. Just how he became criminally radicalized is not clear, but his family points to his time at York as critical.
York University spokesperson Joanne Rider would only say Mohamud “is not currently registered as a student, nor has he graduated from York University.”
“He was very bright, he had some level of religiosity, but not a lot of knowledge, when he went away to York,” said Hamdani. “(His family) believes somebody online reached out to him.
“He became much more harsh in his perspective, finding that he wasn’t comfortable in the local mosques — that they weren’t ‘hard core’ enough,” said Hamdani, who has served as an officer of the Hamilton Muslim Association.
But, he said, “He was just 20 years old, barely out of his teens … They were hoping it was just a phase, that he would work through it.”
In the weeks after their son entered Syria, Hamdani said the family continued to co-operate fully with security officials, even working with the RCMP to try to break into Mohamud’s email account.
RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Greg Cox declined to comment, saying the police service does not comment on specific cases.
Mohamud’s family in Hamilton includes “a large network” of cousins, aunts and uncles who came to the city from Somalia, in addition to his siblings. Mohamud’s father has worked elsewhere and sent money home for years.
“You have a very sincere family but without any real older male role model,” Hamdani explained.
Hamdani said he didn’t believe Mohamud had travelled into Syria with any other young Hamiltonians.
“I don’t think so, and I know it’s never been raised by CSIS or the RCMP with the family.”
But a Somali community leader in Western Canada says recruiters are successfully targeting youth in his community.
The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that Mahamad Accord, president of the Edmonton-based Canadian Somali Congress Western Canada, says youths from the Somali community as young as 16 have signed up to become terrorist soldiers.
And in an echo of Mohamud’s experience, Accord said Somali youth have left without warning and then called home from countries such as Turkey without any explanation.
Hamdani also said he didn’t believe Mohamud had necessarily set out to join or fight for ISIS as such.
“He wanted to topple the Assad regime in Syria. But even if he didn’t intend to join ISIS, you go there for one purpose, you end up working for one gang or another. They have networks there to scoop you up …”
The National Post is reporting that a photo of Mohamud, identified by former classmates, has been circulating online with posts that claimed a Somali-Canadian had died during raids on Kurdish villages in northern Syria last week.
“We are aware of reports that a Canadian was killed while allegedly fighting with ISIS,” John Babcock, a Foreign Affairs spokesperson told the National Post. “We are following the situation closely.”
Hamdani said Mohamud’s mother, Asha, and his other family members did not want to talk to the media. “They want to grieve in private.”
But in an interview with Voice of America last week, Mohamud’s father said his son came to visit him in Minneapolis in July. He noticed his son had become much more devout, spending all of his time attending a mosque.
Then on July 18, the young man disappeared.
“It was shocking,” his father is quoted saying. “My son was a student, he suddenly changed. He used to pray, but he increased it to 24 hours of prayers, and he was rarely away from mosques. He arranged his travel without my knowledge, and then he ended up in Syria. All of us (in the family) are very saddened. We did not expect he would do this.”
Two Facebook accounts that appear to belong to Mohamud contain little information about religion and nothing about leaving Canada or jihadists. The last messages on one of the accounts include recent birthday greetings from Canadian friends.
Jason Tamming, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said the government doesn’t comment on “operational matters of national security.”
“We will continue protecting law-abiding Canadian families from those who would seek to do them harm,” he said in an emailed statement.
Tamming pointed to the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which will strip Canadian citizenship from dual-nationals who engage in terrorism abroad, and the Combating Terrorism Act, as examples of such work.
Mahamad Accord says he has solid sources, including elders, who say youths from the Somali community as young as 16 have signed up to become terrorist soldiers.
Calgary – EDMONTON – The leader of a Somali group has written to the prime minister warning that young people in Alberta are being recruited to become fighters for the radical group ISIL.
In his letter, Mahamad Accord says he has solid sources, including elders, who say youths from the Somali community as young as 16 have signed up to become terrorist soldiers.
“Parents of these young men and women are extremely worried about this terrorist group and the fact that their sympathizers are recruiting our youth to fight in this losing war,” he wrote in his letter to Stephen Harper dated Sept. 15.
The extremely violent ISIL insurgency, also known as ISIS, broke out earlier this year, taking control of cities and land in parts of Iraq and Syria.
In an interview Wednesday, Accord, who is president of the Edmonton-based Canadian Somali Congress Western Canada, said he doesn’t have any hard numbers on how many young people have been recruited.
He declined to give any names of people who have been recruited or their families, citing privacy concerns.
Accord said some youths who have left their families have called home from countries such as Turkey without any explanation.
In his letter, he asks the prime minister for programs to reach out to disaffected Somali youth to counter ISIL recruiters.
“It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would safeguard our safety and security,” he said. “We need resources to counter these terrorists.
“Our strategy is detect early and prevent to protect vulnerable youth from being drawn into terrorism.”
Accord estimates there are about 35,000 people of Somali descent living in Alberta, including about 15,000 in Edmonton.
He said most are moderate and hard-working Muslims who despise and reject ISIL and other terror groups.
Accord said the Somali community wants to work with Canadian authorities and police to fight against these extremists.
“We cannot sit idly to see these criminals putting our young lives at risk and becoming a pawn for ISIS terrorists.”
An official with the Prime Minister’s Office responded to a request for comment on Accord’s letter by noting the Conservative government is a proud partner in the global fight against terrorism.
“And we have given security agencies a number of tools to combat terrorism and continue protecting law-abiding Canadian families from those who would seek to do them harm,” Carl Vallee, Harper’s press secretary, wrote in an email.
“Despite the objections of the Liberals and NDP, our government recently passed legislation that would allow for Canadian citizenship to be revoked from dual-nationals who engage in the most serious crimes including acts of terrorism.
“In addition, we passed the Combating Terrorism Act and introduced Canada’s first counterterrorism strategy — a four-pronged approach to prevent, detect, deny resources and respond to terrorist activity and threats.”
Vallee’s response did not mention Accord’s letter or some of the specific points it raises about the need for programs and resources to reach out to disaffected Somali youth in Canada.
Last month a prominent imam of the Islamic Supreme Council in Calgary went on a 48-hour hunger strike to raise awareness that ISIL is not a part of the Muslim community.
Imam Syed Soharwardy said that ISIL is destroying peace and creating a negative image of Islam.
The remains of a church near the waterfront in Mogadishu, a city that might be emerging from decades of war and neglect. Michelle Shephard / Toronto Star via Getty Images
“Whenever you move around, you worry about what will happen to you,” says Abdullahi Nur Osman, who recently moved back to his home country, Somalia. “The security situation is a big worry.”
For the past 20 years, Somalia has been a byword for chaos. In 1991, after the central government fell, the entire economy and political system collapsed. Anarchy and civil war ensued. For years, the capital Mogadishu – once a vibrant seaside resort – has been home to bombed-out facades of buildings. Houses and shopfronts, though painted in bright colours, are pocked with bullet holes.
However, if Somalia’s government is to be believed, the country long known as the world’s most failed state is making tentative steps towards recovery. A permanent federal government has been in power since autumn 2012, and the country is gearing up for democratic elections in 2016. Al Shabab, the hardline Islamist rebel group, no longer controls Mogadishu, although terrorist attacks are frequent. Government buildings are the main focus – recent incidents included an attack on the intelligence headquarters and a major prison, and the president’s residence is often targeted. Foreigners and wealthy citizens face the risk of kidnap by terrorists or armed groups.
Despite these dangers, members of Somalia’s huge global diaspora are returning in significant numbers. This has been actively encouraged by the government, which in 2012 announced that Mogadishu was “open for business”. Osman, who lived in London for a decade, is now the president of the Hormuud Telecom Foundation, the corporate social responsibility wing of Somalia’s largest company. “I realised there was a need to go back, to share my expertise and join those rebuilding the country,” he says. Like him, many who have left their adopted homes in the west want to reconstruct Somalia – but they are also drawn by the opportunities available in a country where regulation is practically non-existent and where the lack of an education system puts anyone who has been abroad at a distinct advantage. But, with large swathes of Somalia still controlled by Al Shabab, and Mogadishu’s fragile peace maintained by a heavy African Union military presence, is it a good idea to return, and does the diaspora really hold the key to Somalia’s recovery?
The long, messy conflict in Somalia – which saw warring tribes pitted against each other before Al Shabab came into the fray – means that infrastructure is practically non-existent. Just 10 per cent of Somalia’s roads are paved, while 95 per cent of the country’s 10 million inhabitants have no electricity. The surge in diaspora returns has triggered some instant, visible changes. Construction has restarted in Mogadishu; the colourful shopfronts are no longer just shelled-out facades, but functioning businesses. Hotels and restaurants are springing up. Solar-powered street lights have brought Mogadishu out of darkness. And many hope that the enlargement of the private sector will aid political stability. The government certainly wants to promote the image of an economic renaissance in Mogadishu, in order to attract international investment for desperately needed energy and transport projects.
Maimuna Mohamud is a Somali-American who recently moved back to work for the Heritage Institute, a think tank. “I’ve been based in Mogadishu since February – a really difficult period,” she says. “A lot of people have felt let down by the recent attacks and insecurity in the city. But you keep in mind the reason why you are in the country, you try to be careful and you stick it out.”
Mohamud recently carried out research into the motivations of the returning diaspora. “It’s not a decision people make lightly, but they were primarily going back to contribute to the development and reconstruction of Somalia,” she says, noting that although the government has actively encouraged the physical return of Somalis, there are often tensions with locals who have never left. Members of the diaspora earn much higher salaries than locals for the same work. There is resentment about people returning from long stints abroad to work in politics without understanding the dynamics on the ground. “A local man told me that he doesn’t like diaspora because if ‘something happened tomorrow, then they would head to the airport, leave the country and leave us again’,” she says. “It tells you about the deeply rooted tensions.”
For the most part, locals appreciate diaspora investment in business and the jobs in construction and services they bring. In recent years, eye-catching, whimsical initiatives in Mogadishu have made international news: the first dry-cleaning business to open in the city, the first taxi firm, pizza delivery restaurant or florist. But it is debatable how useful these services are. “This is mostly business generated by the diaspora and directed to the diaspora,” says Roland Marchal of CERI, a French research centre. “Dry-cleaning, for instance, is irrelevant to most people in Mogadishu, who do not need to wear suits. There are many new restaurants and hotels, but the prices – $10 or $15 [Dh37-55] for a meal – are too expensive for local people to pay. Construction is booming and rehabilitation is taking place, but there hasn’t been a second step.”
He attributes this to ongoing security problems. “The situation is unsettled, so it’s very risky to go beyond trade. Whatever the international community say, Al Shabab is still there. That’s why people are reluctant to go beyond services that do not need huge investment.”
The basic costs of existing and doing business in Somalia are high; not only are private security costs significant, but there is also practically no electricity grid after years of war and diesel is expensive. But there’s an upside to this lack of infrastructure, too. “Diaspora are very interested in taking advantage of the lack of taxation and in doing business without all the restrictions that exist everywhere else in the world,” says Mohamud. “However, many also complain that it’s difficult to do everything without the basic protection governments should provide – like guaranteeing contracts.”
There’s clearly a lot of opportunity for members of the diaspora setting up businesses – but can this serve a social purpose too? Unemployment is high, particularly among those under 30 (around 70 per cent of the population). Mohamed Ali, a Somali-American, established the Iftiin Foundation with his sister in 2012. A social enterprise, the foundation aims to bring together members of the diaspora and locals by teaching leadership skills to young people in Mogadishu and connecting entrepreneurs to funders. “Many of these young people have nothing to do and are at high risk of being engaged by criminal or terrorist organisations,” he says. “They are a vulnerable population. Entrepreneurship is a way to generate employment on a grassroots level, to provide these young people with opportunities and to give them the chance to take control of their lives.”
The young people Iftiin works with are full of ideas; one young man remodelled coffee machines to run off coal, bypassing the problem of prohibitively expensive electricity. “The biggest challenge is not finding people who are entrepreneurial,” says Ali. “But over the last 20 years, a lot of the business activity has been informal. We want to create an environment where international investors would be interested in coming in.”
Of course, there is no clear distinction between the financial interests of the diaspora and locals; the Somali economy has always been propped up by huge remittances from abroad, which some estimates put at around $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) a year. “It’s a hugely important part of the economy and perhaps more importantly, the social safety net of Somalis,” says E J Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.
Today, the security situation and the economy remain closely linked. “Particularly outside Mogadishu, the business community can pay a high price,” explains Osman. “If control of an area switches between government and rebels, businesses can be accused of collaborating with the other side.” This can translate into the kind of protection economy seen in Afghanistan and other post-conflict countries.
This ongoing instability is certainly slowing the country’s economic development, but the return of the diaspora and the associated strengthening of the private sector could help to secure peace. “The business community has injected a huge amount of money into politics,” says Osman. But there is a long way to go. “The government must build legitimacy beyond Mogadishu and something must be done about Al Shabab,” says Marchal. “More funds must be available and skills and training improved. There are a lot of basic issues to address. It’s not impossible, but it will take time. Things must be moved politically first, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Some see cause for optimism. “There’s a cycle of poverty, hopelessness and conflict,” says Naima Ali, a Somali woman who recently moved back from the UK to work for an NGO. “If you give people options for their future and opportunities to work, then perhaps we can break that cycle.”
Calgary jihadist Farah Mohamed Shirdon, in his 20s, was reportedly killed abroad after joining the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which now calls itself Islamic State. Shirdon’s death follows those of fellow Calgarians Salman Ashrafi, who also died fighting with ISIL in Iraq and Damaian Clairmont, 22, a member of an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group who was killed in Syria. The men are just two of an estimated 30 Calgarians that have been recruited by foreign terror groups, according to Calgary police.
The Herald asked Michael Zekulin, a political science professor and terrorism expert at University of Calgary, what causes Canadians to become radicalized and how to prevent it from happening.
CH: What causes someone who grew up in Canada, with Canadian values, to adopt extremist views?
MZ: It is a very individual process. What might speak to one individual is not necessarily going to speak to another.
One of the things we might look at is what’s known as the tipping point. Once an individual is identified as having being radicalized, you can often go back and look at something that may have occurred in their life. It can be anything from the death of a family member to the loss of a job, something that disillusions them. In those circumstances, some individuals may be more vulnerable to an alternative world view.
CH: Prior to his death, Shirdon was seen in a video burning his Canadian passport? What is the significance of this?
MZ: He is definitely demonstrating some contempt for Canada or his life before radicalization.
It might simply be him playing up on his own to build up a name for himself or credibility of “Look what I’m willing to do.” It might be something that members of the group, ISIL in particular, are encouraging. This is being done on purpose to try to put a Western face (out there), all in the desire of reaching out to other potentially interested individuals in Canada and the U.S.
CH: How are these young people being recruited? Is it online or on the ground in Canada?
MZ: You can find a lot of information online, but in terms of the face to face contact, you have to think that probably still plays a role most of the time.
If you’re talking particularly about Western individuals, you don’t just get on a plane, land somewhere, know where you’re going, pull up and say ‘Hey, guys.” There has to probably be some form of intermediary.
One of the things we also talk about is, once you have a few individuals who have been radicalized or who have gone abroad and come back or are tweeting back to their friends here, that is what becomes the main source of recruitment.
CH: Shirdon was killed in Iraq and before him Damien Clairmont in Syria. As long as they’re not in Canada, why should we be concerned?
MZ: I mean the first part is obviously this perspective of a larger problem. What is going on where individuals who are born and raised in Canada or have been here for a long period of time, where you think they identify with Canadian society and values and ideas, are able to dissociate themselves from that?
The second part is more of a practical part. Individuals going abroad, the credibility they have in terms of further recruiting individuals goes up, but more importantly what happens when they come home? Best case scenario, they’re here radicalizing and trying to influence others. Worst case scenario, that grievance becomes expanded when they’re over there to “Yes, Canada is a problem and is our enemy.” Then we see that manifest itself in terms of increased terrorism incidents here.
CH: The RCMP will be rolling out a counter-radicalization program in the coming months. What can we expect from it?
MZ: You’re talking about two things. You’re trying to identify individuals that may be susceptible to radicalization. So, before radicalization has taken hold, can we identify any characteristics? Anything that radicalized individuals have in common?
The other half of it is once we identify individuals who are radicalized, what do we then do from that point, a de-radicalization. This might involve things such as counselling, increased education.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
The Somali Canadian Business Council marked the end of Ramadan with food, music and dancing Saturday.
The group gathered in a small park on 118 Avenue and 91 Street for the city’s first Eid al-Fitr Festival from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Hassan Omar, council chair and CEO, organized the event to foster interaction between Edmonton’s Somali community and the businesses that serve it.
“There’s an influx of Somalis in this area. The business in this area is overwhelmingly Somali on this avenue road, so we are bringing the families close to the business,” Omar said.
“We have 17 stores just on this avenue.”
The City of Edmonton partnered with the council to provide tents for business vendors.
Eid al-Fitr, also called the Feast of Breaking the Fast, celebrates the end of 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting that many Muslims take part in during Ramadan with elaborate banquets.
Although Omar cannot partake in the fast because he is diabetic, he said most healthy men he knows in the Somali and Muslim communities do take part and are especially grateful for nourishment once they are able to eat again.
“Most of them that I know in the Somali community here, the Muslim community, they do the fast,” he said.
Fasting is intended to strengthen patience, charity and empathy for the poor, among other virtues.
Mogadishu’s new police commissioner was once wanted in Canada as a “war criminal” after a refugee and immigration board concluded he was “responsible for the ruthless torture of prisoners” while with Somalia’s police force in the 1980s.
Mogadishu’s new police commissioner was once wanted in Canada as a “war criminal” after a refugee and immigration board concluded he was “responsible for the ruthless torture of prisoners” while serving with Somalia’s police force during the 1980s.
Mohammed Hassan Ismail Farah fled Somalia as the Siad Barre government collapsed in 1991, living for seven months in the United States before crossing into Canada to make a refugee claim.
According to federal court documents obtained by the Toronto Star, he testified at an immigration and refugee board hearing that he feared persecution if forced to return to Mogadishu and denied claims made by government witnesses that he had beaten prisoners and used electrical shocks during interrogations.
The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) questioned the veracity of Farah’s claim, turning down his application in 1993.
“The claimant struck us as an intelligent, well-educated man whose casual arrogance tells of great self-confidence,” the board wrote. “He adopted an openly mocking attitude toward some of the testimony of the minister’s witnesses.”
One Toronto witness, Yussuf Mohamed Issa, testified that he met Farah during his three-month detention after taking part in a 1984 student demonstration in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.
Issa told the Toronto hearing that Farah was part of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) — not the anti-drug squad as Farah claimed — and came to Hargeisa in July 1984 as the head of a delegation sent by Barre to deal with the students.
“When (Issa) failed to give satisfactory answers, the claimant ordered that he be tortured. His maltreatment included being subjected to electric shocks and resulted in broken teeth and a scar on the chin.”
Issa had also gone public with his treatment in a documentary by CBC’s Fifth Estate, describing how he was left hogtied for more than 24 hours.
Farah denied the allegation or claims that he was in Hargeisa in 1984 — a defence dismissed by the refugee board. “Rigorous cross-examination did not uncover any inconsistencies in (Issa’s) testimony,” the IRB states. “We found Mr. Issa to be a credible witness and accept his testimony as truth.”
In turning down his application the IRB concluded: “We consider the torturing of helpless prisoners to be a crime against humanity.”
Little is known about Farah’s whereabouts after his application was turned down, but in 2011, the Canada Border Service Agency posted Farah’s photo as one of 30 war criminals wanted in Canada. Although believed to be the same person, the CBSA listed Farah’s birth date at Sept. 24, 1954, and Farah told the IRB hearing he was born July 27, 1954. The CBSA would not comment on the specifics of the case.
The “most wanted list” was controversial when announced, and in December, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner criticized the CBSA for “potentially misleading” the public by using the label of “war criminal,” since a finding by immigration officials is not the same as a criminal conviction.
CBSA spokesperson Esme Bailey confirmed that Farah was no longer on the list but would not specify when he was taken off or why, citing only that individuals are removed either 30 days after their apprehension, if they’re removed from the country, or if “new information arises” showing they are no longer in Canada.
After more than two decades of war in Somalia — driven by the fighting between clans, devastating foreign policies, and in recent years, Al Qaeda’s East Africa group, Al Shabab — it is not uncommon to have leaders with bloodied pasts.
A common refrain in Mogadishu as it embarks on a slow recovery is that moving forward means forgiving the past.
But many Somalis interviewed by the Star say Farah’s reputation for torture cannot be forgotten.
Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed dismissed the head of national security and police commissioner, Canadian Gen. Abdihakim Dahir Saeed, following a July 8 attack on the presidential palace — the most recent in a spate of targeted Shabab strikes and assassinations.
In an interview with the Star from Mogadishu earlier this year, the prime minister had praised the advances of the security services and said he anticipates the police will have a bigger role in the future, even surpassing that of the military once the security situation stabilizes.
And he acknowledged that Somalis have an inherent mistrust of their political leaders after years of corruption. “Somali politics are not stable, because of the clan issues, tribe issues . . . we have a long way to go,” he said from his office.
Saeed at first refused to step down — questioning the constitutionality of Farah’s appointment — but later conceded.
“Everybody inside and outside Somalia are shocked,” Saeed said in a telephone interview from Mogadishu. “Change is normal but they have to hire someone in this position whose record is clean.”
Farah has declined to be interviewed.
The prime minister, who is also Canadian, was not available for an interview but a spokesperson from his office sent an emailed statement.
“The prime minister stands by his decision to relieve the outgoing police commissioner,” a spokesperson wrote, adding that “already there have been positive changes to the security situation following the July 8th incident.”
A young student hides her face with a Canadian flag at the Daynille school on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The school, which opened in 2013, was built thanks to remittances and fundraising in Canada.
As the diaspora return in record numbers, tension is growing. Sending money from abroad is one thing, coming back to Somalia is another.
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA—The tables start to fill inside the air-conditioned Maka al Mukarama Hotel cafe just before sunset. Hunks of black forest cake and frothy cappuccinos are ordered, as members of Mogadishu’s who’s who exchange nods and handshakes. They keep determinedly coming here even though the hotel has been hit twice by suicide bombers from Al Shabab.
Mohamed Ali Nur, arguably Somalia’s most important ambassador, sits at one table in the corner, soon joined by his compatriots. Canadian compatriots, that is.
There’s Abdurahman Hosh Jibril, a longtime Toronto community leader and lawyer who moved back to Somalia to become a member of parliament and political rainmaker. Hassan Abukar, a youth activist who once held a spot on Toronto City Hall’s Youth Committee, has come to his parent’s homeland, as has 20-year-old Ali Liban, who sits behind the hotel front desk in his Blue Jays cap.
The Canadians are everywhere.
When the government here collapsed 23 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Somalis left to seek refuge abroad. Many settled in Canada and much of the money they earned went back to relatives, providing a lifeline for at least 40 per cent of the country.
A 2013 study by Adeso, Oxfam and the Inter-American Dialogue found that Somalia receives approximately $1.3 billion each year in remittances — as money sent back home is known — which is more than foreign aid and investment combined. While the study does not break down remittances by country, Canada is considered a major contributor.
But the future of remittances in Somalia is uncertain.
As the country, and in particular the capital Mogadishu, begins to recover after two decades of war, those from the diaspora are returning in record numbers.
Where there used to be only a couple flights to Mogadishu a week, now there are sometimes five a day. There are so many returning that the government has created the Office of Diaspora Affairs.
That’s generally a good news story. Many bring with them much-needed expertise, education and international backing. But there is tension. Sending money is one thing; coming back to take jobs or reclaim property is another.
Police believe some recent assassinations have not been the actions of the Shabab, as many have claimed, but of those competing for business and political postings. There is much money to be made in Somalia and a deadly jockeying for power.
Add to this another dynamic: hawalas. Somalia lacks a banking system, so remittances are delivered mainly through informal money services bureaus (MSBs), known as hawalas. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the recent rise of the Shabab, MSBs have been under scrutiny as western governments target terrorist financing.
It has become increasingly hard for MSBs operating in Somalia to maintain accounts with major banks. Financial institutes are deciding that the risk of supporting MSBs is greater than the return.
But if the banks cut off the MSBs — as U.K.-based Barclays and the Merchants Bank in California have threatened — it could quite literally starve Somalia.
The returning diaspora, MSBs and remittances are intricately linked — and there’s a heavy Canadian component.
Canadians have been among the most successful here, populating almost every sector with positions in the government, business and humanitarian communities.
Somalia’s prime minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, is Canadian, as is Mogadishu’s former police commissioner, General Abdihakim Dahir Saeed.
Nur, a Toronto native, is Somalia’s ambassador to neighbouring Kenya — the most diplomatically important country for Somalia. Relations with longtime rival Ethiopia are also vital; Canadian Ahmed Abdisalam Adan holds that ambassadorial post.
Nasra Agil, the owner of Mogadishu’s pristine new dollar store that opened near the city’s K4 thoroughfare, is an engineer from Toronto. The director of the women’s rights centre, founder of a primary school, deputy director of Mogadishu’s first think-tank, owners of one of the most popular restaurants, managing director of a major airline: Canadian, Canadian, Canadian, Canadian, Canadian.
Here’s a journalist’s secret: When visiting Mogadishu, my suitcase is heavier on arrival than departure, half of it filled with Tim Hortons coffee. It feels strange bringing coffee from Canada to East Africa, where some of the world’s finest beans are grown, but Timmy’s is a much-needed sip of Canada for the patriotic.
My deliveries here have been likened to dealing crack. Speaking of which: “How is our mayor?” Jibril, known more commonly as Hosh, asks at the Maka al Mukarama on that recent evening. Everyone leans in. No one wants to talk about the Shabab, or Somali politics, or the role of the diaspora, not until hearing the latest on Rob Ford.
This is the strange global village where we live, when sometimes it feels more like Canada in a Mogadishu hotel, and more like Somalia in a Rexdale coffee shop, where citizenship and patriotism can be complicated and where money is sent around the world with just a name and a promise to pay.
Stories about Canadians returning to Somalia are usually dire.
A University of Toronto graduate was convicted in Brampton earlier this year for the crime of attempting to join the Shabab, and counselling another to do the same.Mohamed Hersi was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport in 2011, as he was about to board a flight to Cairo. A jury found him guilty of planning to go from Cairo to Somalia — a claim he denied.
There have been examples of Canadians fighting with the Shabab, such as Mahad Dhore, who left his Markham home in 2009 and led a suicide bombing mission inside Mogadishu’s court complex last year, injuring dozens and killing 30.
Foreign policy regarding Somalia has been driven mainly by these terrorism concerns — the link between western fighters and finances fuelling the Shabab — which is unlikely to change as Al Shabab increasingly strikes outside Somalia’s borders, as it did last September with an assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
But restrictions that ultimately force MSBs out of business may have short-term counterterrorism benefits, but long-term consequences that would exacerbate conditions such as poverty that terrorist groups can exploit, argues Degan Ali, Adeso’s executive director.
“Somalia doesn’t have an alternative banking system. The MSBs act as the banks. If you don’t have MSBs, the whole economy will collapse,” she says, noting that businesses would have no way to transfer funds and that MSBs are the country’s third-largest earner of GDP.
MSBs operate much like Western Union, although usually charge less than five per cent commission and tend to be more efficient. Money sent from one of the MSBs in Toronto can reach a small Somali village in minutes. The local agent there will be notified and send a text message to the recipient. If the recipient doesn’t have identification, someone can vouch for their identity, although there’s a good chance the agent would know the person.
These funds have been life-saving in some of the most impoverished regions. “This is a country that’s just coming out of a famine,” says Ali. “The last two famines in modern history have happened in Somalia, so this is a place where we’re talking about 50,000 children at death’s door at the risk of dying. Almost three million people are food insecure.”
“If you now take away this lifeline, the source of income and survival for 40 per cent of the population, you’re going to have nearly all of Somalia food insecure, so that’s beyond the famine. That’s beyond a catastrophe.”
Drive outside Mogadishu city limits to Daynille, where the newly paved roads turn to sand, and out of nowhere a school comes into view. This area was once under control of the Shabab; there are still occasional attacks.
Children used to walk kilometres to reach a school in Mogadishu, if they could afford an education at all. But Daynille primary school, which opened last August, provides free education for its students, the majority of whom are orphans or from low-income families.
It is the latest project by Ishardo (International Society Horn of Africa Relief and Development Operations), started by three Somalia-born Canadians in 1998. The organization has also funded a hospital in the area, which provided critical care during the 2011 famine.
“We really see education now as the way to help the community,” said Toronto resident and Ishardo co-founder Mohamed Gilao, who has been fundraising in Canada for the projects for more than a decade.
On the day we arrive, the students of Daynille primary school have heard a Canadian reporter is coming, so as soon as the principal ushers us into the first of five classrooms the children begin clapping and waving paper Canadian flags.
Gilao co-ordinates his work with local volunteers and members of his extended family who stayed in Somalia during the 20 years of war and who run the Canadian-funded projects. He travels back and forth to Somalia so he knows the tension that exists with the returning diaspora — and how the Shabab and other militant groups exploit this division.
“Sometimes the people of Somalia are held hostage by terrorist groups and their propaganda. They say the people from outside have lost their nationality, or their religion, or they’ll say they’re spies. This is the challenge.”
“We’re just hoping to peace-build through education.”
A study released last month by the Mogadishu think-tank Heritage Institute notes that “the relationship between returnees and locals in Somalia is complex.”
Security measures often keep the diaspora segregated since they are seen as influential, and therefore targeted by the Shabab. Also, as the report points out, “returnees often find it easier — and more advantageous from a professional networking point of view — to socialize disproportionately with other diaspora returnees.”
Of course the returning diaspora are not a cohesive group. “Generally, non-diaspora Somali communities grasp the diversity among the diaspora returnees,” writes report author Maimuna Mohamud. “They distinguish, for example, between the ‘good diaspora’ who have been successful in their host countries, and the ‘bad’ ones who failed to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.”
Al-Jazeera journalist Hamza Mohamed poked fun at the stereotypes of the returning diaspora by their country of citizenship, dubbing those from Canada who are not part of Mogadishu’s who’s who as “Team Canada YOLO (you only live once).”
“They are everyone’s friends. This group treats life as a party and Somalia as a dance floor,” Mohamed wrote in a column that went viral. “They usually arrive with few things — like a minor criminal record and a Mongolian scripture tattoo they got while under the influence on a night out in Toronto. It’s hard to find them talking about serious issues. Don’t mention school — they have usually dropped out of school and are sensitive discussing this subject. If you want them to unfriend you on Facebook, tag them in photos from your graduation ceremony.”
Back at the Maka al Mukarama Hotel, the Canadians laugh at the column, which also states the British like to put many titles on their business cards and the Americans, well, the Americans are loud.
As the sun sets, the group disperses. It is safer in Mogadishu than it has been in years, but the powerful are targets and travel carefully at night.
There are parting jokes about Ford and the upcoming fall election.
Ottawa – Muslim Link interviewed Mohamed Roble, Municipal Candidate for Gloucester-Southgate Ward 10. The Ottawa Municipal Election takes place on Monday, October 27th 2014.
Please tell me a little bit about your background (i.e. country of origin, where you are from, how long you have been in Canada, your educational background, your work experience and passions.)
My name is Mohamed Roble, I’m 29 years old and I have lived in Canada for the past two decades. My family is originally from Somalia and we arrived in Canada in the early 1990’s, fleeing a life of strife for one of stability and opportunity.
My professional background is in development work and for the past 4 years I have been working in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East with various U.N. organizations, NGO’s, and government institutions in the education sector. I have recently completed my Masters in Education and I aspire to complete my Ph.D. in the near future.
I have served with the Canadian Forces for seven years and had the privilege of travelling around Canada and experiencing the vastness of this land and the diversity of people who live in it.
My hobbies and passions include community work, youth activism, photography, writing, and fitness.
Why is municipal politics important to you and how did you get involved?
Since childhood I have been fascinated with politics and the democratic process. Most people are unaware that municipal affairs and politics affects them on a daily basis, more so than provincial and federal issues or mandates. Municipal politics is concerned with urban transit, garbage collection, recreational facilities, emergency response personnel, city planning and development, road maintenance, as well as the management of school boards.
I am getting involved in municipal politics because I believe city council should be more representative of the diversity of people we have in our communities. Moreover, city council should also voice the interests of youth who one day will form the bedrock of our society. We can get a sneak peek into how tomorrow will look by observing our youth today. I believe I can represent the concerns of my community as well as echo the voice of the youth at City Hall.
Tell us a bit about your ward and the priorities of the constituents there.
I am running as a city councillor for Ward 10 (Gloucester-Southgate). This ward includes the Ottawa International Airport, Greenboro, South Keys, Blossom Park, Fairlea,Heatherington, and rural communities around Anderson Road and Leitrim. According to the City of Ottawa, Ward 10 has a population of approximately 50,000 residents and that population is growing.
Constituents I have spoken to in Ward 10 consistently suggest an interest in affordable public transit, as well as safety and security in their neighbourhoods. In addition to this, environmental protection is also a priority. The youth in Ward 10 have expressed a keen interest in working with the city to create more youth-lead initiatives, from sport leagues to developing employment skills.
By working hand-in-hand with community associations and residents, it is possible to achieve the collective interests of our city.
Why do you think Muslims should get out and vote in October?
Voting is not only your civic right, but also your duty. The Muslim population in Ward 10 is expanding by leaps and bounds. Currently, we have two mosques within our ward; Assalam Mosque and Dar-As-Sunnah Mosque.
Muslims should go out and vote this coming October because their voice has been silent for too long. It is time now for Muslims to be more politically organized toward a common goal for our community. By voting, you are voicing your interests and concerns to the city council.
What advice would you give to youth that want to get involved in politics and the political process as a whole?
The best advice I can give to youth is the same advice I received from my mentors when I was young. Get involved in the political process; you must first start talking to your neighbours. A sense of community begins when you start forming bonds with people who live around you. Once you are active in your community, you are provided with a clear understanding of the underlying issues that need to be addressed. Get active in your community!
Last Ramadan, Abshir Hassan fasted with his mother, a Somali refugee, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Last week, the well-loved Toronto supply teacher was gunned down outside his Lawrence Heights apartment simply for being, police believe, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His mother now looks at the bed where he slept on his visit, mourning her son from more than 7,000 miles away.
Faduma Barre Ali, reached by phone in Addis Ababa with the help of a Somali translator, said she has been distraught since learning of her son’s death July 8.
“As soon as I close my eyes I see him. I’m staring at the place where he was with me last Ramadan, and that’s my life now,” she told the Star.
Ali, 49, was at a local market when she learned her son was dead through a call from Abshir’s brother, Saabir, in Somalia.
“I was taken from the market to the house and I almost crashed. I couldn’t believe it for three days … Friday I got my senses. I realized where I was, and that’s when he was buried, that Friday. That’s when I recognized what I was doing, where I was. That he is gone,” she recalled.
Ali said that she did not eat or sleep in the days after learning of her son’s death, because she is devastated, and because she does not have money for food. Abshir sent her about $250 a month for food and rent for the small room that she shares with her two teenage children, she said.
“He paid for their education at the school, because he always [said] to them, ‘you have to finish, you have to go school, you have to educate yourself.’”
Ali says she fled her home in Mogadishu at the urging of Abshir, who thought she would be safer in Ethiopia.
“I left Somalia because of the violence and the drought. There was nothing to eat,” she said. But as a refugee she doesn’t have residency documents and has found it difficult to get work.
“He was my lifeline,” she said of her son. “He absolutely used to maintain me here. Now that he’s gone I don’t know what to do anymore.
“My life is upside down.”
Ali, who spoke on the phone to Abshir nearly every day, would like to come to Canada to see her son’s grave.
“I would love to share with the people of Toronto and Canada that Abshir was a good, kind child of mine.”
Ali’s other son, Saabir Hassan, said from his home in Mogadishu, Somalia his brother was sending their mother money in Addis Ababa, something he can’t do because he doesn’t have a job.
“He was the greatest star for all of us,” he said of Abshir.
“Last year at this time he was with his mother in Ethiopia, he fasted with her for the holy month of Ramadan. They were really close.
“Just hours before he was shot he was on the phone with her.”
Abshir’s father, Ali’s ex-husband Ahmed Hassan, said his family has been supporting Ali with about $100 a month and that will continue.
“I need time to grieve and let it be that for now,” he said.
Some arrived in a school bus, others on foot to Khalid Bin Al-Walid mosque to pray and remember Abshir Hassan.
He looked so small as he approached the too-tall microphone, the young boy dressed head to toe in black, his eyes cast downward.
Standing before the grieving crowd gathered in Lawrence Heights Community Centre Friday night — inside a gym not unlike those where slain supply teacher Abshir Hassan spent countless hours — Ahmedshaw Naimi unfolded his paper and began his speech.
In a quiet voice he spoke a few words, but saying the name of his teacher proved all too much. He stopped, and as Hassan’s grieving family, friends, colleagues, and fellow teachers looked on, he buried his head in his hands.
It’s difficult to know how the young minds Hassan sought to enrich and challenge are processing the sudden death of their teacher — someone who grew up in the neighbourhood, faced many of the same challenges, and had risen above them before his life was ended by violence he was working to curb.
Earlier Friday, following a Muslim prayer service honouring Hassan, 14-year-old Tashayla Price flattened her hands on the back window of the funeral van, and touched her forehead against the glass, peering in at the wooden casket holding Hassan, which had been draped in a yellow and green tapestry.
“He was helping me with my anger,” she said after, her cheeks still streaked with tears.
The 31-year-old teacher was gunned down outside his Lawrence Heights apartment Tuesday morning in what Toronto police say was a random shooting. Hassan was moving his car to avoid a ticket when he was hit by a spray of bullets that also left a 22-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman injured. Police have yet to release information on suspects.
Administrators and teachers, struggling with their own grief, have done all they can to support the students, including opening the school during the summer break to provide a gathering place.
For the young people in the community, said Lawrence Heights Middle School principal David deBelle, it’s both shocking and unsurprising. “They’ve seen this all many times before,” he said, “and chances are they are going to see it again.”
On Friday afternoon, orange school buses lined up outside Khalid Bin Al-Walid mosque, bringing students from Lawrence Heights and other middle schools to the funeral, held in conjunction with the traditional Friday prayers.
Police directed traffic as car after car pulled up outside the Rexdale mosque. Inside, it felt as if mourners had filled every inch of space, packed into the large building’s maze of rooms, then lining the halls. Prayer mats eventually had to be placed outside on the concrete, under the beating midday sun.
“Look how many people we have here today. The mosque is packed,” said a visiting imam who led the service.
He encouraged mourners to take comfort in the overwhelmingly positive things being said about Hassan — “someone who helped people, someone who did whatever he could to support his young brothers and sisters in humanity.”
Natalie Haddrell was a former colleague of Hassan at FedEx, where the young man worked part-time for nearly a decade. She attended prayers because he would have done the same for every single person who was there, she said.
“He never had a bad day. He was just a good person.”
It was as simple as that, so many said.
“He was a good man. The best,” said a colleague.
“He was attentive to his friends, and he had so many,” said a York University professor and former teacher to Hassan.
After first working at the middle school’s after-school program, Hassan was hired last year as a supply teacher at Lawrence Heights and Flemingdon Public School, instructing students from Grades 6 to 8.
Hassan earned a bachelor of arts from York University in 2008. He went on to complete his bachelor of education at York in 2011 and took an introductory course in special education. He was pursuing his master’s degree in education.
Hassan also volunteered with Success Beyond Limits, a community-based organization encouraging youth to finish their education, and worked with the school board’s Somali Task Force to facilitate professional development for teachers and administrators.
At Lawrence Heights Community Centre Friday night, more people flocked to remember Hassan through laughter and prayer — and, for Muslims marking Ramadan this month, the breaking of the daily fast. Many lined up to speak to Hassan’s father, Ahmed Hassan; Hassan’s mother, who lives in Somalia, will make a trip to Toronto in the fall.
“Violence is what we want to root out,” he told the Star earlier Friday, announcing a scholarship in his son’s name that will support young people in need. “We want to bring kids out so they can play and they can be told that they’re loved, and this will be on behalf of Abshir’s vision.”
Co-signed by deBelle, the scholarship fund has already raised $3,000, which CIBC has matched.
Addressing mourners on Friday evening, Imam Ramzy Ajem said to take comfort in the impact that Hassan had made as an educator, someone who has performed the “sacred” act of imparting knowledge.
“If we remember him as a teacher,” Ajem said, “it doesn’t stop here. It continues with his students.”
Later, as Naimi, the young boy dressed all in black, struggled to continue, principal deBelle rushed from his seat, put an arm around him, and encouraged him to go on.
The young boy began again.
“You didn’t deserve to die,” he said.
With files from Tara Deschamps
To donate to the scholarship fund: CIBC Transit #: 01912. Account #: 7916280
A Toronto teacher who was gunned down early on Tuesday morning had just stepped out to move his car when he was fatally wounded.
Abshir Hassan, a 31-year-old substitute teacher, had been hosting friends at his apartment when he left to move his car and was shot with two others – a 22-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman – outside the apartment building where he lived, near Allen Road and Lawrence Avenue, according to a source.
Mr. Hassan died in hospital, and the man and woman were in critical condition on Wednesday.
A close friend, Mohamed Ahmed, said he did not believe the shots were intended for Mr. Hassan, who had never been in trouble with the law.
“I know for a fact he’s not targeted because I think the people who shot him don’t really know who he is. I think it was just one of those random shootings.”
Mr. Hassan immigrated from Somalia as a child and grew up in the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood, according to Mr. Ahmed. He was just over a month away from earning his Master’s degree in education from York University, and was writing his thesis on issues facing the Somali community, he said.
David Debelle, the principal at Lawrence Heights Middle School, where Mr. Hassan often worked, struggled through tears to describe a young man who volunteered his time to his students, leading games of pick-up basketball at lunch time and deejay lessons after school.
“Growing up in the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood, which is a marginalized community, he appreciated the challenges that many students experienced,” he said. “If any student had a problem, needed someone to talk to, he was a kind, caring adult who would lend an ear.”
He said social workers were at the school to support students and about 20 teachers who showed up to mourn the loss of Mr. Hassan, who also taught and volunteered at other schools in the area, including Flemington Public School, Charles H Best Middle School and John Polanyi Collegiate Institute.
Mr. Hassan also volunteered his time to Success Beyond Limits, a community youth organization based in the Jane and Finch area. He participated in the group’s Hip Hop Literacy program, Somali Student Achievement Task Force, and accompanied some of the youth to a Raptors game.
The Lawrence Heights neighbourhood has seen more than its share of violence in recent years, including two random shootings in which one man was killed at a playground and another was shot while walking his dog.
Stella Laughlin, a long-time resident of the building where the shooting took place, said she woke up to the sound of gunshots and heard a commotion in the hallway outside her door.
“I got scared. I was wondering what was going on,” she said.
Police say officers patrolling the area heard several gunshots just after midnight, and found the three victims outside a low-rise apartment building on Flemington Road. They believe the two younger victims are a couple.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility there was more than one shooter.
Inspector Tim Crone called the shooting a “brazen and cowardly act.”
A Canadian court held a trial Tuesday for Mohamed Hersi, a Somali-Canadian resident of Toronto, who was accused of trying to join the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali terrorist groupAl Shabab. The group was responsible for the deadlyWestgate Mall massacre in Nairobi last September.
Hersi was arrested in 2011 at Toronto’s Pearson airport while leaving Canada, reportedly to join the terror group, in the first case of a Canadian being arrested while on their way out of the country to take part in terrorist activities, according to the National Post.
Investigations of 28-year-old Hersi began in 2010, after dry cleanersdiscovered a SD card with instructions on how to make explosives in the pocket of clothes he brought in for cleaning. After the card was transferred to police, an undercover officer was assigned to Hersi, posing as a fellow terrorist hopeful.
Over the course of the years, the officer recorded numerous conversations with Hersi in which he expressed hatred towards the West, Canada, Christians, and “infidels” in general, reports Shalom Toronto.
Hersi claimed in the recordings that any rule, even that of a tyrant, would be preferable to the “police state” of Canada, in which non-Muslims “hate Islam,” and Christians “don’t understand what ethics are.”
In one taped conversation, he confessed to avidly reading the Al Qaeda propaganda magazine Inspire, and noted that he particularly enjoyed an article attacking the West and giving permission to steal from non-Muslims.
“A silent assassin”
“I always picture (myself) as a type of, you know, like a silent assassin,” said Hersi in one recorded conversation. “Some of those people deserve to, you know, get what they, what’s coming to them, you know. If you ever insult the prophet Allah, peace be upon him, you deserve a certain outcome, you know.”
It has also been revealed that Hersi’s uncle was arrested in an attempt to blow up a mall in the state of Ohio, in the US, and that a friend of his, Mohammed Ilami Ibrahim, a former student at Toronto University, was killed in 2009 in Somalia while fighting for Al Shabab.
The Al Shahab connections come at a time when many Canadian citizens have gone to fight in Syria as jihadists. In January, Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) presented a report noting the key danger of Canadians returning from fighting abroad with Al Qaeda-linked terror groups.
If these traveling Canadians “participate in a foreign conflict or train with a terrorist group, they might return with certain operational skills that can be deployed themselves or taught to fellow Canadian extremists. Either way, this is a serious security threat to Canada,” notes the report.
She is described as black, light complexion, 5’8″, medium build, 150 lbs. and long, black, curly hair with blonde highlights. She was last seen wearing a turquoise sweater and blue jeans.
Police are concerned for her safety.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-3100, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at www.222tips.com, text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637), or Leave A Tip on Facebook. Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World.
After more than 24 years living in Edmonton, Somali national Mohamed Jimale moved to his home country to help rebuild the country’s national university.
Partnering with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education, Jimale is working to launch the Somali National University’s (SNU) education department to train the country’s teachers.
“I felt responsible to go back,” Jimale said Tuesday from Mogadishu. “Most of the educated people left the country during the civil war.”
With his own children graduating from the U of A, Jimale thought the university was the best partner to help rebuild SNU’s, which was forced to close in the early 1990s as civil war ravaged the east African country.
“Most of the teachers were killed or left the country (during the war),” said Jimale. “I felt that it is very necessary to bring back the faculty of education.”
As part of the partnership, the U of A’s education faculty delivered a shipment of more than 400 education textbooks to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, last week.
Now organizers are working on sending teaching staff to Nairobi, Kenya, to hold training sessions for SNU staff.
“One thing we all recognize is the critical importance of teaching and the basic importance of teachers and making sure teachers are well educated,” said George Richardson, associate dean of international initiatives for U of A’s Faculty of Education.
“We learn a huge amount working with others. It helps you look carefully at what we do.”
A move by the Toronto District School Board to begin hammering out an action plan to offer Somali students more help sparked an outcry among dozens of Somali parents who came to a meeting Wednesday night to oppose the extra help, claiming it will stigmatize them.
“They’re trying to say Somali kids need more help, but they don’t,” said Hawa Jilal, who said she doesn’t believe the board’s claim that 25 per cent of Somali-Canadian students drop out.
“The sample was too small — it was only about 100 students out of 6,000 of Somali heritage.”
The proposals are the result of a special 22-person task force the board created a year ago at the request of Somali families who wanted more support for their children. TDSB statistics suggest that students of Somali descent are 50 per cent more likely to be suspended, placed in special education classes, and have lower scores on standardized tests. Data suggests they are also less likely to apply to college and university than the board average.
Nearly half the task force is made up of parents who said the recommendations have widespread support among the Somali community. However some critics — including a number of star Somali-Canadian students who are currently in graduate school — argue special help is not needed and will further stigmatize their community. Supporters note the help is optional for those who want it or feel they need it.
However the procedural red tape trustees had to go through late in the meeting to actually “receive” the report – essentially adopt it– was so confusing, some trustees were surprised to learn they had voted to accept it without discussion.
“I think it was very unclear what just happened – many of us didn’t realize we would not have the chance to speak to this issue,” said a frustrated Trustee Chris Tonks.
Immediately after the confusing vote to receive the Somali report, Trustee Chris Bolton ordered everyone to clear the room so trustees could resume outstanding private business. Angry Somali parents shouted “No!” and “Shame!” and refused to leave the lobby for nearly half an hour after being moved from the boardroom.
“Why is my child being treated different?” asked Suado Mohamed. “I can help my child – we’re born in Canada. We are no different.”
The task force proposals are similar to those made to help support other groups of students who face demographic hurdles to learning. Portuguese-Canadian students also are more likely to quit school early, and a special task force was struck last year that came up with similar recommendations for more support for students of Portuguese background, more homework help and role models and encouragement from teachers.
Similarly the higher dropout rate among black students was the reason behind the board creating an unusual Africentric alternative elementary school in 2009 to try to combine all these extra supports into one alternative school – from role models to lesson plans that largely spotlight black culture and heritage.
This too was highly divisive among the black community, which warmed of “segregation,” although the school is open to all, is optional for those who want to attend and has won kudos for engaging students. Meanwhile an Africentric high school program has since opened.
Other groups that have drawn special study because of lagging performance include children of Spanish-speaking heritage, and also Filipino students.
There is a growing body of research that suggests students in groups that lag behind face a lack of opportunity – the “opportunity gap” – and boards are increasingly targeting extra supports for these groups to level the academic playing field.
But in many cases, these moves do divide the communities.
Abdulrahman Elmi is leading a group of young Canadian-Somali leaders to mentor north Etobicoke youth away from the pull of drugs, gangs and dropping out of school.
It is urgent and important work made possible through a $46,000 share of U.S.-based website Gawker’s $200,000 crowd-sourced money from its online “Crackstarter” campaign to buy the now-infamous video in which Mayor Rob Ford allegedly smokes crack cocaine from a glass pipe.
The Somali-Canadian Association of Etobicoke was one of four Ontario organizations that got a split of the money, which it is using to operate a two-year youth leadership program aimed at steering high school, and especially elementary, students toward college and university and away from drugs and gangs.
“A lot of kids need the positive role model,” said Elmi, 23, a York University environmental management graduate. “We can take something negative and turn it into a positive. Change the issues of drugs and gangs and violence and offer role models and leadership and put a name on it and be proud of it.”
Many of the leader-mentors are university graduates or enrolled in university.
“Kids will think, ‘if they can do it, I can do it too.’ Growing up in a priority neighbourhood, you can go to university and work or you can take the easy way out,” said Elmi, who was hired in December as the program’s co-ordinator.
Elmi acknowledges ‘the easy way out’ refers to a life of drugs, and potentially gangs.
The mentoring program is expected to enrol as many as 40 kids ages nine to 16 with as many as a dozen older youth mentors.
Three nights a week after school, kids will get homework help, can discuss life challenges, and engage in activities they enjoy, whether basketball, soccer or art for example. The hours will change in the summer.
While the program is geared to Canadian-Somali children, it is open to kids of all ethnic backgrounds.
APPLICATIONS BEING ACCEPTED
Scheduled to start in April, the program is currently accepting applications from parents to enrol their pre-teens and teens. It is also accepting donations to help with program costs. Call the association at 416-742-4601 for more information.
Murder is no stranger to the Canadian-Somali communities in Ontario and Alberta. Victims have been young men born in Canada to families, often a single mother, who fled Somali’s civil war.
Last June, police raided homes in Etobicoke, Windsor and Alberta seizing guns, drugs and cash as part of a year-long investigation called Project Traveller. Many of the 60 or so men arrested were from a cluster of high-rise buildings on Dixon Road in north Etobicoke known as Little Mogadishu.
Elmi said the program offers the opportunity to create a positive out of the unflattering light cast on the Canadian-Somali community after the video and Project Traveller arrests.
“It gives kids someone to talk to if they have problems,” Elmi said. “They can ask us, ‘what should I do’. There will be lighter moments, like basketball and activities outside. We want them to feel comfortable. If they’re not having an easy time at home, we want them to feel this is their home.”
Mohamoud, 20, called the program an “investment” in area youth.
The program offers an opportunity to help grow youths’ self-esteem, suggested Hanad Jibril, 20.
“All these kids see the environment they live in. They think people have forgotten about them, that people have better lives than them. Now we can tell them, ‘people care about you, too.’” Jibril said.
Osman Ali founded the Somali-Canadian Association of Etobicoke 26 years ago in response to language and cultural barriers then facing the local Somali community, often women and children who fled Somali’s deadly 1991 civil war.
“I have a passion for it. It was the first Somali organization in Canada,” said Ali, the organization’s executive director.
In recent years, Ali has knocked on the doors of all three levels of government, and submitted numerous applications to grow the agency’s youth programs.
But no money came – until Gawker.
“Isn’t it ironic?” asked Ali, recently retired from his career as an electronic engineer with Bell Canada. “A blogger in the United States of America based in New York looks at our application, the needs of the community here, the issues with drugs and drop-outs especially the boys, and is sympathetic to us and gives us money.
“Where is our own government — all levels of government?”
Ali said he is excited and encouraged to hand the reins over to his young leaders to help the youngest generation of Canadian-Somalis and other local children in need.
“Now you see the youth taking over. They’re doing the job,” he said of his young mentors. “They make my life very easy. They just need a little coaching sometimes. I’m so proud of them.”
Toronto, ON – A new television program featuring Somali-Canadians in a new light will debut every Saturday starting March 1st from 10:30am to 11:00am CHIN on City.
Integration - Building a New Cultural Identity is a weekly half-hour television program showcasing the Somali-Canadian experience. Canada is home to approximately 200,000 Somalis and nearly 100,000 live in Toronto. 80% of Somali-Canadians are under the age of 30 and these Somali Millennials are an emerging community who are highly educated, skilled and integrated into the Canadian fabric.
Integration will be an instrumental vehicle for government agencies, community organizations and advertisers to effectively reach this new emerging community. This show will help to sensitize mainstream viewers on different aspects of the Somali way of life.
The debut show on Saturday, March 1st, will give viewers first-hand experience from a mother who lost her son to gun violence, engaging discussions from Somali-Canadian youth about their challenges in society and an interview with Toronto Police Chief, William Blair.
Cameraworks Productions International, a full-service and fully-equipped television and video production facility and Cultural Integration Agency have partnered to create this new format for cultural community programming.
Hodan Nalayeh, President of Cultural Integration Agency and Host explains: “Somali-Canadians have suffered from negative news images in the media. Integration will bridge the gap for Somali-Canadians as they grow and integrate into Canadian Society. Integration will also set a new standard for quality produced cultural programming.”
ABOUT THE HOST: Hodan Nalayeh was born in Somalia and as a young child immigrated to Canada with her family. Her media background includes radio and television, including American Idol. Nalayeh went on to develop a unique concept for a cultural television show – Integration.
ABOUT CULTURAL INTEGRATION AGENCY: Cultural Integration Agency is a full-service media company specializing in the development, production, marketing and distribution of multicultural programs.
A Somali man wanted for two counts of rape and a single charge of sodomy in the United States was arrested by U.S. customs officers in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Abdinasir Abdi, 27, a citizen of Somalia and permanent resident of the United States, was arrested while trying to enter the United States on foot at the Rainbow Bridge.
He was wanted by the St. Louis Police Department and was also listed as one of 10 people on the Toronto Police Fugitive Squad’s most wanted list.
“It is our understanding that he turned himself in at the bridge to U.S. authorities because of the list,” said Toronto Police Det. Andrew Lawson.
During his arrest he mentioned to officers that he was featured on the fugitive squad’s list, Lawson added.
According to police, he has family living in Toronto and was considered armed and dangerous.
He is the first suspect on the list, which was published in January, to be arrested.
“We published the list because we wanted to refresh some old cases and put it back out in the public. We exhausted all means at our end, as far as where these people might be, and we just put it out hoping we might get some type of tip and lead to exactly what happened.”
Abdi was turned over to the Niagara Falls Police Department for extradition to St. Louis, Missouri. If convicted he could be deported back to Somalia, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Suban Abdullahi has taken on an unusual charge: She is fighting the Toronto District School Board so her children do not receive any special treatment.
On Wednesday, school trustees will be reviewing – and possibly approving – a task force report that calls for more supports for Somali students, postsecondary scholarships, a Somali heritage month and Somali-focused curriculum. The recommendations have sparked deep divisions in the community. Supporters say that, because of a higher-than-average dropout rate, interventions are urgently needed. Detractors such as Ms. Abdullahi say it will only stigmatize her two school-age children (three others are in university) and others of Somali descent.
“The task force is marginalizing our children,” said Ms. Abdullahi, who formed a grassroots parents’ movement and gathered hundreds of online signatures. “If they really want to help, why not help all the students who are failing?”
Her argument raises interesting questions: How does a school board decide where to dedicate its limited resources? And will those extra supports leave students feeling stigmatized?
The TDSB came under fire when it wanted to collect race-based data on its student population and when it opened Ontario’s first public Africentric school. When data showed Portuguese students were dropping out at higher rates, a task force created a few years back was also criticized. The task force on Somali students, made up of parents, students and educators, was formed last year after some parents requested more supports for their kids at school.
About 5,000 Somali-speaking students attend TDSB schools, the majority of whom were born in Canada. A 2006 study showed that 25 per cent of Somali-speaking students at the TDSB dropped out, compared with 14 per cent over all. Also, fewer students of Somali descent apply to university or college. But the high dropout rate is not limited to Somali students. Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking students also do not fare well in school.
Donna Quan, the director of education, said the debate about where to direct supports is natural. But in the end, she said, helping students cross the finish line is what matters most.
“This is about inclusion. This is about levelling the playing field and giving an opportunity to those who may not have a chance to succeed,” she said. “I think that the stigma will draw some short-term concern, but I think that once that generation receives the support and is able to move further through that support, that stigma will gradually dissipate.”
Michael Inzlicht, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, said creating a specialized task force and then providing accommodations for one ethnic population will bring attention to it. But, he added, “you have to weigh that with what are the effects of not addressing and recognizing the problem. Will the problem get any better by just pretending everything is great and the Somali population is not doing any worse than the other populations? Should we stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine, or should we actually do something about it?”
A colour-blind approach may be nice in theory, but does not recognize that some communities face difficulties and issues of race that affect academic performance, Prof. Inzlicht said.
Ms. Abdullahi argues the vast majority of Somali students – about 75 per cent – are graduating, and perhaps TDSB resources should be put toward those who are failing, generally. Her children in Grade 9 and 10 are in French immersion and doing well in school, she said. Targeting resources at them is unnecessary, Ms. Abdullahi contends.
“It’s not doing anything but harming them. It is isolating them. It’s showing the other children that the Somali descent children are not capable,” she said.
Not so, said Haweiya Egeh, who co-chaired the task force. Ms. Egeh is a graduate of the TDSB, and her father is a teacher at the school board. She acknowledges many Somali students fare well in school. Watching the division over extra support, Ms. Egeh concludes: “No community agrees 100 per cent over anything.”
Ms. Egeh believes the fact that most Somali students graduate high school does not mean there is not a problem. “Even though there are success stories, we have to recognize that within the community there are people who need supports,” she said. “I don’t buy the whole labelling stigmatization thing.”