Key member of Calgary jihadist cluster revealed for 1st time

CBC News has learned the full name and identity of another key member of a cluster of Calgarians who left to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq in late 2012.

Waseem Alhaj Youcef, who was killed fighting for ISIS, shared downtown apartment with man who died in Syria

A key member of a Calgary cluster of men who went to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq has been named in full for the first time, as Waseem Alhaj Youcef. (CBC)

CBC News has learned the full name and identity of another key member of a cluster of Calgarians who left to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq in late 2012.

Waseem Alhaj Youcef's name is being fully revealed for the first time, based on documents obtained by the CBC and sources, including some who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

CBC has learned that Youcef was killed fighting for ISIS. 

Although not much else is known about him, CBC has learned that Youcef too lived in a now infamous apartment building in downtown Calgary to which the 8th and 8th mosque is attached.

In fact, he was roommates with a Canadian-born Muslim convert who was killed while fighting with al-Qaeda-linked forces in Syria.

The 8th and 8th mosque, CBC reported Thursday, is to close its doors on Friday — a move that Imam Navaid Aziz says is a relief to his community, eager to leave a place that had become synonymous with radicalization.

​The mosque is administered by the Islamic Information Society of Calgary.

But unknown to the imam and the administration at the mosque, the aspiring jihadists were meeting secretly for months in a flat above the prayer hall or in one of the many apartments they rented in the building.

Calgarian Salman Ashrafi, shown in a 'martyr's notice' released by ISIS, was a suicide bomber in a 2013 attack that killed 46 people in Iraq. (Twitter)

One of them, Salman Ashrafi, was a University of Lethbridge graduate who had held jobs with big energy firms like Talisman. He lived with his wife in the apartment building before he left Canada in late 2012. A year later, he blew himself up in a suicide mission in Iraq, killing 46 people.

The Gordon brothers, Gregory and Collin, also rented a room in the same highrise. They were killed fighting in Syria in December 2014.

Tamim Chowdhury, an ISIS commander in Bangladesh, also lived for some time in the same building. Chowdhury grew up in Windsor, Ont., and graduated with a chemistry degree before moving to Calgary to find work.

Before he was killed in a shoot-out with Bangladeshi security forces in August 2016, he had left a trail of blood and devastation in the country.

For a short period of time, his friend from Windsor, Ahmad Waseem, also lived in the same Calgary apartment building before also joining jihadists in Syria.

Mustafa al-Gharib, born in Nova Scotia as Damian Clairmont, was killed while fighting with al-Qaeda linked rebels in Syria. He shared an apartment with Waseem Alhaj Youcef. (Facebook)

And of course there was Damian Clairmont, who was born in Nova Scotia but took on the name Mustafa al-Gharib​ after converting to Islam in his teens. The 22-year-old left Calgary for Syria in November 2012 and was killed by Free Syrian Army forces during rebel infighting.

But before he left, he co-leased a room in the 8th and 8th highrise. His roommate, it turns out, was none other than Youcef.

Men prayed, played and studied together

The men were described by sources in the community as being close-knit. They met often, sharing meals with each other and praying together. They often played sports and went on hiking trips together, CBC has learned.

A resident of the apartment building who attended some of their study sessions told CBC News they spent a great deal of time poring over obscure Islamic texts in Arabic and discussing medieval fatwas — religious rulings — about the permissibility and impermissibility of Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim lands.   

Clairmont's mother, Christianne Boudreau, says her son left Calgary in November 2012 for Syria.

Youcef left sometime in January 2013, says Boudreau.

Shortly after the men had left, Boudreau says police called her by accident, saying they were trying to contact Youcef, but they were reading her son's information.

"I was listed as the emergency contact," said Boudreau, who later launched an effort to help families de-radicalize other young men and women before they're lost like her son to the clutches of extremism.

"I told them he [Youcef] was likely off in Syria like Damian, and they were really confused by that."

Members of the Muslim community who didn't want to be named said Youcef was of Palestinian background and did not have family members or relatives in Calgary.

Author bios:

Nazim Baksh, left, is an investigative producer with CBC News based in Toronto. He has won numerous awards over the years for his work on The National, The Fifth Estate, the CBC's documentary unit and more. Devin Heroux, right, reports for CBC News and Sports. He's now based in Toronto, after working for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon. (CBC)