OTTAWA -- The remains of two young men from London, Ont., were indeed among those found at the site of a deadly terrorist siege in Algeria in January, the RCMP confirmed Thursday as they pleaded with the public to help their investigation.
Beyond confirming a four-day old headline, however, the unusual and hastily called news conference raised far more questions than it answered -- chief among them whether the police probe is making any progress.
"We are continuing our work and gathering evidence in this case to determine the circumstances that led to Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas departing Canada," said RCMP Supt. Marc Richer.
In the face of questions about whether police had hit a dead end, Richer acknowledged such investigations are dependent upon key details from members of the community.
"People tend to look to the police (as) having all the answers. The reality is, we need the public's help," Richer said.
"What we need to know is that benign piece of information that may be annoying someone who's wondering what to do with it. Pick up the phone and call the number on the screen. That's what we want people to do."
Following the news conference -- which featured a handout titled Radicalization: A Guide for the Perplexed -- police tweeted a toll-free number to call "if you have info about individuals leaving Canada to take part in terrorism plots."
Medlej and Katsiroubas 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.
No other details about the pair or about other potential suspects are being released for fear it could end up compromising the investigation, said Richer.
Aaron Yoon, a high school friend also from London, travelled overseas with Medlej and Katsiroubas. Reports emerged Thursday saying Yoon is currently behind bars in Mauritania, although it's not clear how he got there.
A Department of Foreign Affairs official would say only the department is "aware of a Canadian who has been detained abroad."
Richer would not say how long the RCMP investigation has been ongoing, or whether it predates the January attack, but did allow it has been underway for a "number of months."
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service reportedly began asking questions about Medlej and Katsiroubas after a family member contacted authorities in 2007 with concerns about the pair. It's unclear what became of that investigation.
Richer said all Canadians have a responsibility to ensure that "radicalization" is quickly nipped in the bud.
"Ultimately, countering radicalization to violence also depends on the public taking an active role in intervention, including assisting law enforcement by reporting suspicious and illegal activities," he said.
Richer said anyone with information is urged to call the RCMP's national security information network at 1-800-429-5805.
Meanwhile, intelligence experts are urging Canada to track citizens as they leave the country -- or detain them at the border -- to prevent attacks overseas.
Such ideas are sure to light up the civil liberties and human rights community, which is still wincing from the Harper government's failed attempt to legislate increased surveillance on the Internet.
Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of intelligence at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said Canada 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.
-- The Canadian Press