Mississauga school halts classes after news former students tried to join ISIS

Classes were cancelled Tuesday at the Mississauga, Ont., school that’s at the centre of a controversy after a CBC News investigation found four women who studied there left Canada to join ISIS.

Al-Huda Elementary School closed on Tuesday due to ‘risk of backlash’ following CBC News investigation

The Al-Huda institute in Mississauga, Ont., was closed on Tuesday. School organizers say they're concerned about potential backlash after a CBC News investigation found four women who studied there attempted to travel abroad to join ISIS. (YouTube/Ahlehadithsgd)

Classes were cancelled Tuesday at the Mississauga, Ont., school that's at the centre of a controversy after a CBC News investigation found four women who studied there left Canada to join ISIS.

The Al-Huda Elementary School said in an emailed statement to CBC News that the school would be closed all Tuesday because staff and students are "at risk of backlash" following yesterday's story.

Parents of the some 160 children who attend the school were told to check their email for more information about when classes would resume.

Sources confirmed to CBC News on Monday that four young women travelled overseas to join ISIS, though it remains unclear when exactly they left Canada.

"Al-Huda Institute Canada would like to be clear that law enforcement authorities have never brought forward any allegations that four girls associated with the Institute traveled to join terrorist organizations," said Imran Haq, the school's operations manager, in the statement. The school is part of the larger, international Al-Huda institute. 

"The Institute has no knowledge as to the identity of these individuals and as such, cannot confirm whether or not they were enrolled in the Institution, for how long, or any other related information."

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The school also said in its statement that it's committed to working with authorities on this or any other matter. Haq also said that local police have been providing support to the school since the story broke.

Peel Regional Police, however, said they have not received any calls about the school.

Ontario's Ministry of Education declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the school.

"We do understand that this matter is currently under investigation by the RCMP and as such it would be inappropriate to comment on any specifics," a ministry spokesperson told CBC News in an email.

The ministry said it doesn't fund, inspect or accredit private schools, but does confirm they are operating as schools each year.

The RCMP confirmed officers have visited the school to ask about two former students.

Founded by controversial scholar

Al-Huda, listed as a private elementary school by Ontario's Ministry of Education, was founded by controversial female Islamic scholar Farhat Hashmi, whose ultra-conservative teachings have faced criticism in the past.

On the evenings and weekends, teenagers and adults can take seminars at the school. It's those classes the four Canadians, who ranged in age from 16 to early 20s, took in recent years before leaving for Syria.

The oldest of the four, who has been living in Syria since the summer of 2014 according to her sister, attended classes for three months in 2012.

The woman and her family are not identified in this story, because of concerns about their security.

The other three women were stopped by security officials in Turkey and brought back to Canada in July 2014, according to the RCMP.

Hashmi, meanwhile, hasn't been in Canada in three years, sources told CBC News, and isn't a Canadian resident despite several media reports to the contrary.

It's also unclear how much contact, if any, the Canadian women would have had with Hashmi.

California shooter attended sister school

Al-Huda International has also been in the news due to its connection to the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

Tashfeen Malik, one of two shooters involved in the deadly attack, attended classes six days a week for more than a year at Al-Huda's Pakistan campus, a school spokeswoman told The Associated Press.

It is not known how, where or by whom Malik was radicalized, however.

With files from Associated Press