Imams urged to spot hallmarks of radicals

Up to 30 Canadians convert each week

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With the eyes of the world on homegrown terrorism in Canada, the Winnipegger who helped write a guide on how to stop it has been fielding questions from media near and abroad.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2014 (2898 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With the eyes of the world on homegrown terrorism in Canada, the Winnipegger who helped write a guide on how to stop it has been fielding questions from media near and abroad.

“They keep asking about the converts,” said Shahina Siddiqui, the head of the Islamic Social Services Association who quarterbacked the completion of United Against Terrorism.

The handbook made national headlines when it was released in September. On Thursday, Siddiqui was answering questions from reporters across Canada, the U.S. and in the U.K. about the booklet and youth who’ve been radicalized by extremists.

Chris Young / The Canadian Press Imam Syed B. Soharwardy

“I tell them they didn’t convert to Islam, they converted to a terrorist ideology,” she said. “I don’t see them as Muslim.”

The driver who was shot and killed after he ran down and killed Canadian soldier Patrice Vincent in Quebec Monday had reportedly converted to Islam and been radicalized via the Internet.

Michael Zehaf Bibeau, who killed a Canadian soldier at the National War Memorial before dying himself in a gunfight in Parliament Wednesday, was a recent convert, but RCMP said he was not on a watch list.

While authorities have said little about the motives for the attacks on soldiers in Ottawa and Quebec, Imam Syed Soharwardy of Calgary says he is concerned about media reports the two perpetrators were recent converts to Islam.

He estimates 20 to 30 Canadians convert to Islam every week.

‘I tell them they didn’t convert to Islam, they converted to a terrorist ideology’ — Shahina Siddiqui, to youth who’ve been radicalized

United Against Terrorism talks about how to recognize and deal with someone suspected of being radicalized and outlines the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizens and the roles of the RCMP and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. On the day it was released, the RCMP distanced itself from United Against Terrorism.

The handbook is getting a lot of attention in the wake of the attacks.

“People are recognizing the importance of the information,” said Siddiqui. She said the community still has a good relationship with the RCMP even if its national headquarters didn’t like the “adversarial” tone of parts of the United Against Terrorism booklet.

Soharwardy, the founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, said imams should look for warning signs, such as a criminal record or drug abuse, before allowing an individual to convert.

“I’m not sure who helped them to convert to Islam. Who was the imam? What kind of relationship did those people have with those people who converted them to Islam? Those very important questions need to be answered,” said Soharwardy.

John Woods / The Canadian Press files Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association

Today in Manitoba, Muslims are offering special prayers for the victims and the safety and security of Canada.

The province’s biggest Muslim organization denounced the attacks that claimed the lives of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa and Vincent in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones,” said Idris Elbakri, president of the Manitoba Islamic Association.

The community is grateful for the sacrifices and professionalism of security forces that averted a greater tragedy, the association said in a release.

It commended officials and mainstream media for responsibly reporting on the tragedies and avoiding associating the perpetrators with a religious or cultural group until facts were established. “Such associations would add fear to the grief that Muslims feel over the loss of life and the attacks on the very symbols of our freedom and democracy,” the release said.

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So far, in Manitoba there’s been no backlash, said Elbakri. “I think we live in a very tolerant province and city. We’re very fortunate.”

The community is trying to prevent extremism from taking root here, he said. “In the mosques two weeks ago we had a sermon on this issue, debunking the whole doctrine of extremism and using violence for political gains,” Elbakri said. “We’ll continue to do that.”

Wednesday’s attack at Parliament is a threat to Canadians’ security, democracy and its “social cohesiveness,” said Siddiqui. “It calls for all of us to stand together. We all stand for the same values.”

Some may see this as an opportunity to treat the Muslim community as outsiders, which is exactly what the extremists and their recruiters want, she said.


Justin Tang / The Canadian Press Members of the National Council of Canadian Muslims pay their respects to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, who was killed by a gunman.

— with files from The Canadian Press

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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