Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/4/2016 (2003 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeggers last year were alarmed by the arrest of a young man tweeting support for Islamic State terrorists from his Charleswood residence. Now, a Transcona man who spent several years in an African prison is back openly advocating Shariah law, defending IS and making members of Winnipeg’s Muslim community very nervous.
When Fewaz Hargaaya was imprisoned in 2011 on a trip to Ethiopia, friends and family in Winnipeg were worried sick for his safety. After being tortured and locked up for nearly four years, he’s back in Canada, and the community is even more worried about him — and their own peace and security. The friendly, outgoing young man who grew up in Transcona returned a religious fanatic who distanced himself from friends and family while pushing Shariah law to an unreceptive Islamic community.
"What was it like coming back to Winnipeg? At first, it was a shock," said Hargaaya, now 31. He said he could no longer trust anyone. In Ethiopia, two friends testified against him when he was accused of crimes including espionage, kidnapping, torture and — the only charge he confessed to — smuggling wireless communication devices, which he planned to sell, into the country. He’s no longer close to his family. He’s out of work and adrift, he said from a payphone in Calgary.
He headed west after the latest of several run-ins at the Winnipeg Central Mosque that have left the Muslim community on edge. He says he’s angry at moderate Muslims he labels "apostates and hypocrites" who aren’t following Shariah law "to the letter" like groups such as the Islamic State. He said he’s not violent but won’t disavow the terrorist organizations. "If they pray to Mecca and fast during Ramadan, if they follow the text of the Qur’an to a letter, then who are we to say they’re not Muslims?"
There’s a lot of worry about Hargaaya but little anyone can do.
Security expert James Fergusson with the Centre for Defence and Security Studies says Hargaaya’s words and actions present "more of a concern" than those of Aaron Driver, the 24-year-old in Charleswood man who was detained for supporting terror groups online.
"Likely, his time in prison exposed him to radical Islamic views, reinforced by the fact that Ethiopia would be seen as pro-western, the regime working for the West, and thus the West being responsible for his plight," said Fergusson, a University of Manitoba professor.
A peace bond was issued for Driver — who went by the name Harun Abdourahman on social media — because federal justice officials believed there were reasonable grounds he might aid a terrorist group or terrorist activity. He was ordered earlier this year to reside at a home in Strathroy, Ont., and to not to have a computer or unauthorized cellphone until Aug. 31. In Hargaaya’s case, it’s reasonable to expect he is being watched by security authorities, said Fergusson.
Hargaaya said he’s certain he’s been under CSIS surveillance long before April 15, his most recent confrontation with Winnipeg’s Muslim community outside the Winnipeg Central Mosque on Ellice Avenue. He was handing out brochures in the pouring rain on the Friday before the provincial election.
"It was an anti-voting campaign," said Hargaaya. "It was nothing to do with promoting violence, but it was different from the norm," he said. According to Hargaaya, there are verses in the Qur’an that say Muslims are not permitted to vote in elections that are not Islamic. He says governments and police that don’t follow Islamic laws set out hundreds of years ago have no authority over Muslims. His "Muslims Don’t Vote" brochures — which Hargaaya said included Qur’an verses — were ruined during the confrontation with mosque executive director Idris Knapp, he said. It was an insult to Islam, said Hargaaya, recalling his anger.
"I’m heated as hell and see nothing but blood. I’d been in prison for three years, I’ve been tortured and abused and locked up in a six-by-six cell. I’ve gone through so much BS, but nothing, in my eyes, compares to what he did there," said Hargaaya. He contacted the Free Press to express his outrage over the incident.
"That was worse than Charlie Hebdo," he said, referring to the Paris publication that was accused of insulting Islam and attacked by al-Qaida terrorists who killed 12 people. "It was a flagrant insult of the religion and my right to practise my religion and freedom to propagate my religion," he said of the incident outside the Winnipeg mosque.
"I’m making sure my fellow people — my family and community members — are not deceived by these individuals perverting the religion," he said. "When they promote things that are not part of the faith, I take a stand."
Hargaaya says he is not afraid of upsetting anyone. "Locked up or dead, I’m ready for both." He plans to return to Winnipeg to promote his interpretation of Islam. "I’m coming back full force — with discourse," no matter how nervous it makes people. "They’re scared, but I’ve got nothing to lose."
Should they be scared? "I don’t know," said Knapp, with Winnipeg Central Mosque. He was leery of speaking to the Free Press about Hargaaya, whose behaviour has been a source of frustration and worry. "He stands up yelling and screaming at the khatib — the person giving the sermon — how we’re all hypocrites," said Knapp. "People at that point are afraid of him." Knapp said he’s received veiled threats. "He mentions my address — the street I live on with my family... He said ‘We’ve got your IT address.’"
One member of the congregation who didn’t wanted to be identified said Hargaaya was haranguing young people outside the mosque during the last provincial and federal election campaigns. Knapp said members have asked Hargaaya be banned from the mosque, but that’s easier said than done.
"It’s a place of worship — how do you bar someone from that?" Knapp said they’re concerned Hargaaya’s time in prison took a toll on his mental health. He’s contacted Hargaaya’s mother to see if she can do anything. Hargaaya’s parents and sister did not respond to Free Press requests for comment.
"He’s free to have his opinion," Knapp said.
For now, there’s little anyone worried about Hargaaya can do.
"Ultimately, unless he commits a crime, or there is reasonable grounds to believe he will, there is little we can do to address his views, anger or personal issues," said Sgt. Bert Paquet with the RCMP in Winnipeg.
Knapp said he called the police non-emergency line during the last run-in with Hargaaya, but didn’t pursue it. Some members of the congregation are concerned if they raise a red flag about Hargaaya, they, too, will be put under scrutiny.
"Should everyone be monitored?" Knapp asked. "We really need to protect our rights and freedoms."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.