Quebec parents plead for suspected radicalized teenager to come home

The parents of a Quebec teenager thought to have left the country to join jihadists in Syria say they had no idea their son wanted to fight overseas.

Teen took classes with Adil Charkaoui, leader of Islamic community centre

Islamic State militants march in Raqqa, Syria. The parents of a student at Collège de Maisonneuve say they received a call from abroad, saying their son had died in Iraq.

The parents of a Quebec teenager thought to have left the country to join jihadists in Syria say they had no idea their son wanted to fight overseas.

The parents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in fear for their other children, sobbed during an interview with Radio-Canada.

"My son is now in a butcher shop," the father said. "We do not eat, we do not sleep …. Our lives have plunged into horror."

Their son, who recently turned 18, flew from Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport in Montreal to Istanbul.

He was one of six Quebecers who left the province earlier this year.

That group includes two women and four men. Of those six, four of them attended Collège de Maisonneuve in Montreal’s east end.

When the teenager’s mother found out her son had left the country, she said she collapsed.

"I thought to myself, this cannot be," she said.

The parents describe their son as polite, smart, curious and naive. They say he loved helping other people.

The family are practising Muslims, hailing from northwestern Africa, but don’t attend mosque regularly. The teenager’s mother said she often reminded her son to pray at home.

Son attended Collège de Maisonneuve 

Until September, he was a practising Muslim, but not especially devout. However, he started CEGEP at Collège de Maisonneuve College last fall. That’s when he told his father he wanted to take courses in Arabic to learn more about his religion.

He took classes with Adil Charkaoui, the leader of the east-end Islamic community centre.

Soon after, the teenager started growing a beard, which concerned his father.

"I don’t want to stigmatize men with beards, but my son had a beard because of his religious convictions. That’s what made me think something was up."

He hid his son’s passport, but his mother was less worried.

"My son showed no signs, in conversations at home .… He spoke, ate with us, and laughed with his brothers."

The father forbade his son to attend classes with Charkaoui and asked him to cut his beard. His son obeyed, but in hindsight, his parents believe it was too late.

They would later learn he applied for a new passport, which he received in late December.

After it was reported that four of the six people who left Quebec to join Syrian jihadists were students at Collège de Maisonneuve, and at least one of the students took Charkaoui's class, the CE​GEP cancelled its contract with the well-known Muslim leader.

Charkaoui was unavailable to react to the parents' comments, but said after his contract was suspended that the school was acting out of Islamophobia.

Parents blame themselves

"I feel like I’m responsible," the father said through tears.

The mother said she wanted to send a message to her son.

"Come back," she said, "Because I miss you a lot."

"I want him back, I don’t want to lose him. I still have hope .… Maybe it’s a nightmare, and I’ll wake up."

The parents spoke to Radio-Canada hoping that other parents will learn from their experiences.

The father said the solution to radicalization of youth must involve religious leaders condemning acts of violence.