Edmonton Somali group wants Harper's help to prevent ISIS recruitment

As U.S.-led forces launch airstrikes in Syria, an organization in Edmonton says it is fighting to keep young people in the city's Somali community from answering recruitment calls to join ISIS militants overseas.

Canadian Somali Congress of Western Canada asks PM for help preventing radicalization of youth

Mahamad Accord, president of the Canadian Somali Congress of Western Canada, says at least six missing young men from his community are thought to have been recruited by ISIS. (CBC)

As U.S.-led forces launch airstrikes in Syria, an Edmonton organization says it is fighting to keep young people in the city’s Somali community from joining the ranks of ISIS militants.

Mahamad Accord, the president of the Canadian Somali Congress of Western Canada, says at least six young men have been recruited.

"Some of the boys are missing," he said. "And they called their parents from either somewhere in Iraq or they call from Turkey and they tell them their intention to join ISIS.”

Accord also believes local recruiters are offering to help pay for travel costs — essential, since most young men in the community could not afford to make the trip alone. 

One mother in the Somali community has two daughters, but says even girls are at risk. She also fears for her nephews. 

"It's really scary. Really scary for a parent like me," said Mana Ali. 

"We fled Somalia to save our lives. But moreso to give opportunity in life for our children." 

In August, CBC reported two brothers in Calgary had joined the ranks of foreign fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The brothers disappeared sometime in late 2012.

In 2011 and 2012, they shared an apartment in the same downtown Calgary highrise that once housed Damian Clairmont and Salman Ashrafi two other Calgary men who were recruited and later died in ISIS operations in Syria and Iraq.

Some of the Calgary men are converts, unlike Canadian Somali Farah Mohamed Shirdon. He appeared in an ISIS-released video this spring, in which he burned his Canadian passport and issued threats to Canada, the U.S. and "all oppressors." 

Multiple social media sources in August reported Shirdon had been killed. Two weeks ago, someone tweeted on an account believed to belong to Shirdon, "The rumours of my death are false. I was injured in battle but I am healing." 

Accord says recruits such as Shirdon put Canadian friends and family at risk. 

"They will use him as a recruiting tool … whoever he has in his circle, to get them," he said. 

Hoping to prevent further losses, Accord’s group has written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking for government support as it combats radicalization.

Community asks for help

"Somali youth are recruited to become ISIS front-line soldiers at an alarming proportion," Accord says in his letter to Harper.

Those most vulnerable are first-generation Canadians who are often socially isolated, without healthy ties to family or community, and without responsibilities to keep them here, he writes.

So, they turn to social media to find somewhere to belong, drawn in by the sophisticated media campaign ISIS maintains, he says. 

That’s one thing that they have to understand: that’s not the key to paradise, it’s the key to hell.— Mahamad Accord

Accord hopes to work with the authorities and law enforcement agencies and communities to stop Alberta from becoming "a pipeline for Jihad recruiters." 

Edmonton police declined CBC's interview request, but said in a statement: "The EPS and RCMP are aware of the issue and continue to work with communities' partners and the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) to reduce the risks to the community and its youth." 

Accord is urging parents to be on the lookout for signs their children may be going down the path of radicalization.

"If you suspect your children are going to be recruited ... go to the authorities. Save your child while you can."

For those contemplating extremism, Accord is unequivocal.

“We’re going to tell our youth … that if you go there, you’re going to be killed,” he said. “And if you ... survive, you’ll be a criminal. You’re going to be a criminal [and] you will be hunted and brought to justice.

“That’s one thing that they have to understand: that’s not the key to paradise, it’s the key to hell.”

On Wednesday, Canada updated its list of terrorist entities under the Criminal Code to include ISIS by name. Later in the day, Harper addressed the UN Security Council to provide an update on Canada's efforts to thwart local recruitment.

"The presence of large number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq is of course not only aggravating an already dangerous regional security situation, but for us it involves the risk that individuals may return home with knowledge and experience gained in terrorist activities to motivate and recruit others and potentially to conduct attacks," he said.

Approximately 160 Canadians are known to be fighting with foreign militant organizations, while another 80 are believed to have returned to Canada, according to a report by Public Safety Canada.

Read Accord's full letter to Stephen Harper: