When her son left Calgary last November, his mother thought the 21-year-old Muslim convert had gone to study at a university in Egypt. Then two Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers came to her front door.
“We don’t think he’s in Egypt,” they told her. They showed her photos of his suspected associates. They said they’d been monitoring her son for some time and had reason to believe he might be involved with an extremist group.
A few days later, the CSIS officers came to her workplace and said they’d checked his travel history and confirmed he was not in Egypt. He’d flown instead to Istanbul and, from there, had probably crossed into Syria.
“He’s definitely with some kind of jihadist group,” the mother told the National Post on the condition she would not be publicly identified. “They call themselves the Muslim Brotherhood out here. And he was recruited from a mosque.”
As the war in Syria has dragged on, with almost daily reports of atrocities, recruits from across Canada have allegedly been making their way to the region to join the fight, sometimes alongside extremists loyal to al-Qaeda.
A Canadian man was reportedly one of several rebels killed by pro-Syrian forces on May 31, along with British and American fighters. Another Canadian, a Muslim convert who called himself Abu Muslim, appeared in a television documentary broadcast last week by Britain’s Channel 4.
It showed the Canadian raising an assault rifle in Allepo with the armed group Katiba al-Muhajireen, which is composed almost entirely of foreign fighters. Asked about his parents in Canada, he said, “On the one hand, they are happy I’m taking my own path, doing my own thing and helping people. At the same time, they don’t understand entirely why I’m here.”
The government isn’t sure how many Canadians are fighting in Syria. “It’s very difficult for us, actually, to tell who in fact is over there,” Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety, said in an interview last week.
He said Canada’s lack of exit controls meant authorities could not track those who had traveled to the region. But he said community members had come forward to say “this individual has disappeared and we don’t believe it’s simply because he’s gone to visit relatives in Europe.”