Hamilton family fears son killed fighting for Islamic State 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.
Source: Toronto Star