Muslim leaders in London, Ont., say they "unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind" following the identification of two young Canadians from the city as participants in a deadly attack in Algeria earlier this year.
Chair of the London Muslim Mosque, Rob Osman, said at a news conference Tuesday that "the Association of London Muslims has and will continue to unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind, as this is the opposite to the core teachings of Islam."
CBC News has learned that two al-Qaeda-linked militants, Xristos Katsiroubas, 22, and Ali Medlej, 24, came from a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood in London and were former high school friends, who may have attended the mosque.
The attack on an Algerian gas plant left more than three dozen refinery workers dead, the final 10 of whom were reportedly tied to gas plant piping and killed in a massive bomb blast.
Munir El-Kassem, imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, also spoke at the news conference, and said that "we as Muslims are as concerned as everybody else."
El-Kassem said the families of the two suspects were not known to him or his colleagues.
"We condemn these things together, not only as a Muslim community but as members of the community at large," El-Kassem said. "Faith and terrorism is an oxymoron. They do not exist together."
El-Kassem expressed concern that reports in the media and reaction by the larger community could prompt a backlash against Muslim youth. "Members of our community deserve to continue to live peacefully and away from anxiety and concern," he said. "We have to work together to combat global phenomena that are affecting all of us."
He urged people not to be influenced by anti-Islam websites that are prominent on the internet.
El-Kassem said "our doors are open to anyone. We do not worship behind closed doors."
Osman said the Muslim community in London has worked to combat the radicalization of youth, and had recently hosted a fair on public security that brought in the RCMP, CSIS, Department of Justice and Canada Border Services Agency to "bridge gaps between our community and youth."
RCMP asked about suspect in June
CBC News has learned that two RCMP investigators were asking questions last June about at least one of the Canadians later involved in the Algeria gas plant attack.
A member of the Muslim Youth Association in London said police showed members pictures of Ali Medlej and several other men.
Ahman Elturk said police were asking if anyone knew them. Elturk said he had seen Medlej once before.
Regarding the questions about Medlej, RCMP spokesman Lawrence Trottier told CBC News: "We do not confirm or deny investigations."
Pair moved to Edmonton in 2007
CBC News has learned that in 2007, Medlej and Katsiroubas left London for Western Canada in search of work.
A former friend of Katsiroubas said the teen seemed lost and adrift before he left home to go West.
"I felt he had no motivation or no goal in life. [I] tried to tell him to, you know, Xris, you really need to get a job, you need to at least go through school or something."
CBC News spoke to a landlady who rented a condo in south Edmonton to Katsiroubas and Medlej from mid-February to May 2007 before evicting them for causing damage.
The landlady, whose identity is being withheld, said that the pair responded to an online ad about the apartment.
"I guess you could say Ali [Medlej] was a smooth talker. He was definitely the leader. Xris [Katsiroubas]
was quiet. Ali was insistent that we rent them a place because they were in a bind. I kind of felt like helping them," she said. "They had moved to Alberta and couldn't stay with their cousin. They were sleeping on a couch or something and they really needed a place."
But the pair couldn’t keep jobs and were soon reduced to stealing groceries.
They were evicted from their condo after trashing it, breaking windows and smashing holes in the walls and doors.
In April another tenant complained that the patio glass in their ground-floor apartment was shattered.
"They claimed they didn't do it. That they were attacked. They filed a complaint with police," the landlady said.
"I served them an eviction notice because there were damages at the place. There were holes punched in the walls.
"It's funny. I was just talking about them yesterday. They were very memorable."
Court records show the two teens and a third friend from London were caught stealing a buggy of groceries from a store on March 25, 2007. They pleaded guilty to minor theft charges and were fined and given time to pay.
Last month, the former friend of Katsiroubas learned he and Medlej had been killed in the in the Algeria attack linked to al-Qaeda.
"They wanted to find a purpose or some kind … something to do, something to believe in, something to strive for. I guess that maybe terrorists or maybe other ideas got to them before we as Canadians were able to offer something better."
How these teens went from unemployed in Edmonton to a deadly hostage-taking in Algeria still isn't known.