Potential threat of ISIS recruiting hangs in Calgary

The Albertan Somali community is working to implement a prevention plan to stop terrorist organizations from recruiting young Somali Canadians, who feel Canada has failed them, to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recruited at least six young Somalis in Alberta according to the Western Canadian Somali Congress. The Canadian government is aware of at least 130 Canadians abroad involved in terrorist activities according to its 2014 Report on Terrorism.

“Before our youth were suffering with drugs and gang violence, then it was Al-Shahab, now it is ISIS. Tomorrow it will be something else, “said Mohamed Accord, president of the Western Canadian Somali Congress. “We have to solve the root of this issue, and that is that we want young Somalis to be happy with Canada.”

In an August report by CBC, Calgary police were aware that up to 30 Calgarians have voluntarily joined foreign terror groups. Five recruited Calgarians have been identified this year by the media. Brothers Gregory and Collin Gordon, Damian Clairmont and Salman Ashrafi, and one Somali Canadian — Farah Mohamed Shirdon.“These kids are nobodies, and terrorist are giving them the opportunity to become celebrities. They are promised instant hero status,”

— Mubin Shaik, consultant with the Canadian Security Intelligence Services

Accord explained that the young Somalis that have been recruited have no family or responsibilities to leave behind or had low self-stem. They “are socially isolated and have no healthy relationships with their community.”

“We are having a big integration issue with Somali youth who were born in Canada,” said Accord. “We want them to feel they aren’t being rejected by Canada. We want them to feel Canadian.”

The Somali Congress calculates there are 30,000 Somalis in Alberta from which 40 per cent are young. It is estimated that there are between 3,000 to 5,000 Somalis currently living in Calgary.

The Somali Congress has the objectives of the plan and is figuring out how to achieve them. It is expected to be fully operating in five years. The Somali community will fund it, it will be ran by volunteers and they will look for the support of different community and government organizations.

“No matter our religion, or the color of our skin, we’re Canadians, and these issues should concern everybody,” said Accord.

“This is not a Muslim or a Somali solution, but a Canadian one,” said Accord.

The community is looking to enhance a sense of belonging to Canada in the youth to fight ISIS luring.

“The terrorist groups are like “Religious gangsters… joining this ISIS thing is suicidal. They are all boloney. These groups highjack Islam,” said Imam Sheikh Abdi Hersy who has been the Imam at Calgary’s Abu Bakr Musallah Mosque for four years.

“Everybody who is neglected by the system can become suicidal. We saw it this week with the two terrorist attacks by white Canadians.”

— Imam Sheikh Abdi Hersy, Imam at Abu Bakr Musallah Mosque in Calgary
Hersy said that young Somalis face many challenges in Calgary from poverty, lack of system support, high school dropout rates, underemployment, profiling, criminalization, negative stereotypes and broken families.

“When you’re a school dropout, and then you’re criminalized. There is no hope,” said Hersy.

However, Hersy said not only Somalis are at risk.

“Everybody who is neglected by the system can become suicidal. We saw it this week with the two terrorist attacks by white Canadians.”

The plan objectives made by the Somali community are:
• support each family member
• foster a strong sense of belonging between children and parents
• promote dignity and integrity in youth
• integrate teens into positive social networks
• work with Imams to educate youth on real interpretation and meaning of Islam
• provide diversionary activities to prevent youth from being drawn into radicalism
• provide structured one-on-one mentoring to help youth who are already radicalized.

The goal is to provide recourses to youth Somali to “fight off loneliness and depression that leads to accept extreme views,” said Accord. “Strengthening families and fostering community collaboration is key.”

A snapshot of the Somali-Canadian community in Calgary

• There are between 3,000 and 5,000 Somalis in Calgary.
• 51.9 per cent of the population is under 24 years old.
• The community resides mainly in the Southwest.
• The community is largely low income.
• Half of households earn less than $30,000
• Another third earns between $30,000 and $60,000.
• The median household income in Calgary was $89,450 in 2010
• 53 per cent of the community over 18 year old have less than a Grade 9 education. This due to poor education opportunities displaced and Somali refugees had.
• 22.5 per cent of families are held by a single parent. The percentage of single parent households in Calgary was 9 per cent during the 2011 national census.
• 50 per cent of working age population is underemployed or unemployed.
Some issues affecting the community
• Many parents have difficulties spending time with their children due to them working full-time jobs, often more than one, to sustain their families.
• Lack of positive role models due to high level of underemployment is affecting the younger generation.
• The absence of fathers in families is hard for young males.
• Parents’ have high expectation of their children’s education, but find that the school system doesn’t always match the expectations.
• Some parents have limited education and knowledge of the Canadian education system to fully support their children in school.
• Many of the young people show a much weaker sense of belonging to the larger Canadian community — despite being born in Canada they feel like outsiders.
• Some young men are frustrated with negative stereotypes of Somali men and feel these stereotypes are affecting their employment opportunities.
• Parents are hesitant in disciplining their children in fear of being accused of child abuse resulting in a loss of their children to the foster system.

Data obtained from the Calgary Ethnic Council’s report Pathway to Belonging 2013: An Assessment of the Somali-Canadian Community in Calgary

According to a study from the University of Ottawa, Somalis started to immigrate to Canada in the 1980s. Immigration was driven due to a military repressive government from 1969 to 1991 and a bloody civil war that still continues today in the country at the Horn of Africa. From 1988 to 1996, more than 55,000 Somali refugees had arrived in Canada.Canada has one of the biggest Somali populations in the world. In the 2011 National Household Survey, 44,995 people reported having Somali ancestry. The Somali Congress calculates there are 150,000 Somalis in Canada.

“This situation might be a byproduct of the civil war. This has strained many families,” said Accord. “Our families are broken, and now we rely on ourselves.”

Accord explained if young Somali do not have their need for belonging met in a healthy environment, with family, good friends, clubs and job opportunities, they will get into a troubling environment, with drugs, gangs or terrorism.

Others share Accord’s worries — young Somalis suffer from negative stereotypes, fractured families, poverty and low self-esteem. “

“They feel Canada has failed them,” said Mubin Shaik, a terrorist consultant with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and undercover agent during the 2006 Toronto 18 terrorism case.

“These kids are nobodies, and terrorists are giving them the opportunity to become celebrities. They are promised instant hero status,” said Shaik.

“Canadians are encouraging young Somalis to leave, and ISIS is inviting them to become terrorists,” said Shaik who explained young Somalis face the stigmatization of being terrorists from Canadian society every day.

“There is a serious double standard how Canadian society treats them in comparison with other ethnic groups,” said Shaik.

However, Hersy said that the number of Somali youths joining terrorists groups is minimum compared with young Somalis dying in Calgary and Alberta due to drug and gang violence.

“More Somalis are dying here than outside there,” said Hersy.

The Alberta Somali community is looking ahead to implement this with support of the Western Canadian Somali Congress, the Alberta Somali Community Center, Somali Canadian Business Council, Edmonton Public School Board, City of Edmonton, City of Calgary, the Alberta government and the federal government of Canada.

drodriguez@cjournal.ca