As more young Albertans are lured overseas by extremists, some groups say not enough is being done to prevent radicalization at home.
The warning follows the reported deaths of three Edmonton cousins recruited by ISIS.
- 3 ISIS recruits from Edmonton believed killed
- ISIS suspects known as 'high-risk travellers,' Edmonton police say
- Radicalized youth in Edmonton worries police chief
- Edmonton Muslim students host forum to fight radicalization
Last week, Ahmed Hirsi told CBC News his 20-year-old son Mahad was killed fighting for ISIS, along with three nephews.
Hirsi said his son and nephews, Hamsa and Hersi Kariye, left for war-torn Syria from Edmonton in October 2013, teaming up with another nephew from Minneapolis on the way.
Mahad was born in a Kenyan refugee camp after his family left Somalia. The boy was still in diapers when Hirsi brought the family to Canada, hoping to escape the violence.
"I bring them here to have peace,” a tearful Hirsi said from his home in Toronto. “A good life.”
But life in Toronto was difficult. Hirsi, who completed his master's degree in political science, was forced to give up his education and work menial jobs to make ends meet.
He split up with his wife, who had trouble coping with life in Canada. The children were cared for by various family members before they were finally moved to live with their aunt in Edmonton.
Mahad, who had dropped out, finished high school and began working in Edmonton. That's also where Mahad became devout, and where his father believes he was radicalized.
'Religious gangsters' prey on isolated, lonely
Calgary Imam Abdi Hersy said many young refugees and newer immigrants face huge barriers in education and employment because of poverty, stigmatization and a lack of schooling before they immigrate.
He said those feelings of failure, helplessness and a lack of opportunity can make youth vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups he refers to as “religious gangsters.”
“They know if they go to Syria they will die. So it's a kind of suicide,” said Hersy.
“As long as we don’t address that as a whole ... we will deal with this problem over and over again."
Hersy said extra support to help them succeed in school and become employable is needed — a sentiment shared by Calgary mother Christianne Boudreau.
“I think you’re going to see more and more of it happen, until we start doing something proactive in advance here at home,” she said.
Boudreau's son, Damian Clairmont, was killed a year ago in Syria. The 22-year-old Canadian-born Muslim convert went overseas from his home in Calgary.
She turned her grief into action by launching a program to prevent other families from losing their children to extremist groups.
Boudreau said many youth are vulnerable to radicalization regardless of religion, culture, ethnic background or socio-economic status — and thinks intervention is needed early before they’re recruited.
“We need to have resources in place for these families so they have somewhere to go … to reach out for help, that they're not going to be stigmatized,” she said.
Boudreau's program also provides support for parents such as Hirsi who have lost their children.
“They need a lot of emotional support. It’s very scary. They’re seeing everything that’s going on in the media and a sense of panic comes over them."