Somali-Canadians upset by terrorist video that targets Edmonton
'Already people don’t have a good view of us, and this makes it even worse,' students says
Bashir Mohamed never really felt comfortable growing up in Edmonton.
Though he came to Canada when he was three, though he speaks perfect English with no hint of an accent, he is a visible member of a racial minority, one who often felt he was part of two worlds and thus never fully part of either one.
From the time he and his friends were small boys, they believed they were constantly being watched by the police.
“Now, especially, we feel like we’re being watched by the government,” he said. “Already people don’t have a good view of us, and this makes it even worse.”
He is talking, of course, about what everyone else in Edmonton has been talking about for the past two days: A video posted online over the weekend by al-Shabaab, in which a masked terrorist suggested West Edmonton Mall as a potential target for attack.
“My initial thoughts were, ‘Not again,’” Mohamed said when he saw the video. “Because it draws the connection between Somalia and terrorism, and if anything it’ll make our community even more marginalized.”
That feeling of being marginalized is, at least in part, the reason he chose to study political science and international relations at the University of Alberta.
“Growing up as a Somali in Canada is very tough,” he said. “Because you don’t know if you’re Somali and you don’t know if you’re Canadian.”
Even on the U of A campus, one of the most multicultural places in this city, the 20-year-old believes there are people who think he doesn’t belong.
Video is propaganda
Then al-Shabaab posts another video and Somalis are once again making headlines
“It seems like the only times we’re in the newspapers is when one of us is dead on the street, or one us of flies over to some foreign place.”
A Calgary imam told CBC News he sees the latest al-Shabaab video as propaganda and provocation, rather than a direct threat.
"However, there could be the possibility of something happening," said Abdi Hersy, a leader in Alberta's large Somali-Canadian community. "There are young kids in the shadows, unattended, marginalized. As long as they feel [they are] not belonging here or to Canadian culture … those who did not graduate from high school, not employed or underemployed, they could be potential responders.”
Hersy said governments in Canada must address the root causes that can leave young people susceptible to radicalization, including education and employment.
“This young man who is talking to these guys [on the video] is from the West. And he’s calling for them. And they can kind of share some commonality. Here, they feel they don’t belong, and they’re not feeling the prosperity of Canada and the dream in Canada.”
The vast majority of Canadians of Somali descent are happy to be living in a safe and prosperous country, and want to stay here and build betters lives for their families, he said.
Al-Shabaab has lost most of its territory in Somalia. This weekend’s video mentioned the Mall of America in Minneapolis and West Edmonton Mall because both cities have large communities of people of Somali descent, Hersy said.
Bashir Ahmed, executive director of the Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization, said his community in Edmonton works closely with police.
Asked for his reaction to the video, he said: “I was very, very upset. When I saw the West Edmonton Mall, especially. I said, I’m living in Alberta. That’s my mall. This is our symbol.”
'We all have a responsibility'
Ahmed said governments and police agencies in Canada have to take such threats seriously.
“We all have a responsibility to engage each other,” he said, “And share every information related these kinds of threats.”
CBC Edmonton reported in January that three cousins from the city had died while fighting overseas for the terrorist group ISIS.
Ahmed Hirsi said his 20-year-old son died last fall along with two cousins from Edmonton and another cousin from Minnesota.
Hirsi said he brought his family to Canada from war-torn Somalia to live in a peaceful country and had no idea why his son and nephews joined ISIS.
Asked about the potential radicalization of more young people in Edmonton, Ahmed said the Somali community continues to work with police to combat the problem.
“We will try every effort to prevent our youth from being part of this dirty business. We are Canadians now. We are part of society. So we have to fight any people who try to harm this great nation.”
But Bashir Mohamed said there is a “huge disconnect” between community elders and young people and that “top down” approaches to the problem don’t work
“We have to keep in mind that the Somali community in Edmonton is very decentralized,” he said. “When they say we’re going to monitor the community, well, for the last 10 or 20 years they haven’t been doing a very good job.”
Mohamed said there are many young Somali Canadians in the city in their 20s and 30s, an increasing number of them young professionals who will become leaders and mentors.
Those people, he said, represent the community’s future.
For his part, Hersy had some advice for any young people who might be tempted to listen to the video's radical message.
"This group doesn’t belong to any religion,” he said. “They are gangsters. Do not be deceived by the Qur'an they read at the beginning and the end of their propaganda video. Everything in the middle is a crime against innocent people.”