The arrest of a terror suspect who once lived in Winnipeg is a local Islamic leader's "worst nightmare."

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This article was published 27/8/2010 (3950 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The arrest of a terror suspect who once lived in Winnipeg is a local Islamic leader's "worst nightmare."

News that the alleged mastermind of a jihadist plot is from the city has rocked Manitoba's Muslim community, says Idris Elbakri, president of the Manitoba Islamic Association. The accused, Hiva Alizadeh, attended the MIA mosque in Winnipeg and worked at a popular Muslim grocery store before moving to Ottawa where he was charged Thursday. "Manitoba Muslims will be concerned about their personal associations with this person, and the overall stigma that will affect our community," Elbakri wrote in a letter to the Free Press.

Saira Rahman's documentary reflected the modern Canadian Muslim experience.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Saira Rahman's documentary reflected the modern Canadian Muslim experience.

"The presumption of innocence is no consolation in a time of heightened fears and rampant suspicion."

Alizadeh was implicated in a terrorist plot in Ottawa with three others. Elbakri said the former Winnipegger allegedly became involved in such activities after leaving Manitoba a year and a half ago.

Still, the Manitoba Muslim leader is calling on anyone with information that can help the authorities with their investigation to step forward.

"It is our religious and civic obligation. The Qur'an admonishes us that the murder of one innocent person is as morally abhorrent as the murder of all of humanity."

Getting people to open up to authorities could present a challenge, he said, when many Muslims who are newcomers bring "a culture of suspicion towards government and authority."

He reminded Manitobans not to judge all Muslims based on the alleged actions of a few.

But people will judge, as they always do when there's a Muslim in the media spotlight, said one observant Muslim woman who covers her head with a scarf -- a public sign of her faith.

"It's enough to make you want to take it off and blend into the crowd," said Saira Rahman, an independent Winnipeg filmmaker. Her documentary A New Life in a New Land, made in the wake of 9/11, explored the Canadian Muslim experience.

"It's so very frustrating," she said Friday about the arrest of a former Winnipeg Muslim. "It's very unfair -- you're demonizing communities again and creating a situation where everyone's guilty till proven innocent. Muslims aren't perfect but they and Islam certainly do not tolerate terrorism or conspiracy to terrorize... I don't know where they're getting that," she said of the incitement to terror.

"We're just as confused as the non-Muslim lay person," she said. "You don't know what's going on. It's very scary to us, too," she said. "If someone gets arrested for conspiring to do terrorist acts and happens to say they're Muslim, that scares us. Nothing in Islam tells them they have the right to do that. It's the opposite."

Elbakri admitted that Muslims themselves "have work to do."

"For far too long, we have followed a paradigm that emphasized building and establishing mosques, but has neglected to invest in human capital," he wrote. "Our youth are often integrated in their Canadian surrounding, but not into their own community of faith, leaving them prey to misdirected calls for jihad and liberation of the weak and oppressed."

And the community is doing the "work."

Friday night, about 60 young Muslim men and women were to take part in a forum organized during Ramadan at the Grand Mosque on Waverley Street to discuss the challenges facing them, Elbakri said.

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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