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Libyan Newswire

Montreal school struggles to explain why its students chose to join ISIS

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RadicalizationMontreal school struggles to explain why its students chose to join ISIS

Published 24 April 2015

Just months after five students at Montreal’s Collège de Maisonneuveleft Canada to join the Islamic State in Syria, a young couple, El Mahdi Jamali and Sabrine Djaermane, who attended the same school, were arrested last Tuesday for what police allege were plans to commit terrorist acts. Since the arrest, school officials have met with terrorism and extremism experts to help analyze if the school itself had been a breeding ground for extremists. Some locals familiar with the school have pointed fingers at Adil Charkaoui, an Islamic leader in Montreal who rents the school’s facilities for a weekend Muslim youth group, and was once probed by federal agents as a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent.

Just months after five students at Montreal’s Collège de Maisonneuve left Canada to join the Islamic State in Syria, a young couple, El Mahdi Jamali and Sabrine Djaermane, who attended the same school, were arrested last Tuesday for what police allege were plans to commit terrorist acts. Since the arrest, school officials have met with terrorism and extremism experts to help analyze if the school itself had been a breeding ground for extremists.

Some locals familiar with the school have pointed fingers at Adil Charkaoui, an Islamic leader in Montreal who rents the school’s facilities for a weekend Muslim youth group, and was once probed by federal agents as a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent.

When school officials learned that five Maisonneuve students traveled to Syria to join ISIS, they immediately encouraged faculty to take courses on identifying signs of radicalization in an effort to prevent other students from being radicalized. “It’s an attempt to give some meaning to what has happened. If we don’t have that it would be a total depression. It’s powerlessness,” said Brigitte Desjardins, a spokesperson for Maisonneuve.

According to the Toronto Star, school officials consulted with police and radicalization experts in order to find out if the school had a terrorist recruiter at work on campus or if school faculty could have foreshadowed the actions of the five students. “There were no signs at all,” Desjardins concluded.

Some locals still believe Charkaoui played a role in the students’ departure, after revelations that several of them had enrolled in Arabic-language and Islamic instruction courses which he operates. Maisonneuve initially suspended its rental contract with Charkaoui, but then allowed him to resume courses under the supervision of an Arab-language observer.

Collège Rosemont, another Montreal school at which Charkaouri operated youth kickboxing and karate courses, canceled its rental contract with him last week, because it found that links on Charkaouri’s Web site led to extremist material.

Of the five Maisonneuve students who left, two were girls — Shayma Senouci and Ouardia Kadem; and another two were their boyfriends, Desjardins revealed. Imad Rafai, one of the students, wanted to become a doctor. His social media profile revealed that he had been moved by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and admired the work of Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian group working on the front lines against the Ebola outbreak. On 23 October 2014, Rafai shared on his social media profile, a story about Canadian Muslim leaders paying tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa by homegrown terrorist Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

On social media, Jamali, who was arrested last week, frequently mentioned the plight of Muslims around the world. “Mali, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma … murders by the thousands and we don’t care,” he wrote on his Facebook page on 15 April 2013, referring to conflicts around the world where Muslims were dying in large numbers. “But Boston, Oh-la-la, a few injured. Get out of here you hypocrites.”

A number of Canadians who traveled to Syria to join ISIS appeared to have been searching for a cause, said Desjardins. “What we know of those who left is that they left to save the world. They didn’t leave to wage war. It was with good intentions,” she said.

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