The Toronto mosque where a group of missing Somali-Canadians sometimes worshipped has urged anyone with information about them to come forward.
The Abu Huraira Centre posted the statement on its website as counterterrorism officials investigate whether the young men had been recruited into a Somali militant group.
“Many people have heard and have been inquiring about the young Somali men from the Toronto area, who appear to have travelled overseas in early November with little or no knowledge of their parents,” it reads. “At this time, we have very limited information and do not wish to speculate. However, we urge anyone who may have any relevant information to please come forward and contact us.”
As many as six ethnic Somalis have vanished from Toronto in recent weeks. The RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service are involved because of a pattern of similar behaviour in the United States.
In Minneapolis, at least 20 Somali-Americans have gone missing only to turn up in Somalia as members of Al-Shabab, a Taliban-like armed group that says it is fighting a jihad against the Somali government.
On Monday, U.S. prosecutors filed charges against eight men allegedly involved in recruiting Somali-Americans and paying for their airfares and weapons. Several of the American recruits have died, one while conducting a suicide bombing.
Three weeks after most of the Toronto men left Canada, there is still no confirmation of their whereabouts, although one allegedly phoned home from Kenya, which shares a border with Somalia.
“You can imagine how hard it is for the families,” said Omar Kireh, administrator of the Abu Huraira Centre.
Al-Shabab “is inspired by al-Qaeda’s fundamentalist anti-Western ideology and remains committed to the establishment of an Islamist caliphate in a Somalia ‘uncorrupted’ by Western cultural influences,” says a secret Canadian intelligence report obtained by the National Post yesterday.
The report by the government’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, based at CSIS headquarters, notes that Al-Shabab has been releasing a stream of English-language propaganda as part of an effort to recruit Somali youths living in the West.
Police fear Al-Shabab recruits could pose a security risk upon their return to Canada.
“It has been suggested that these men are capable of being sent back home to conduct terrorist operations, including suicide bombings,” the report says.
The Toronto mosque’s statement was read to the congregation during last Friday’s prayers, said Mr. Kireh. It says the parents of the missing Canadians are “understandably concerned and anxious but remain hopeful” the men will return home safely.
“For other parents, we encourage you to have frank and open discussions with your teenage and young adult children about any concerns that they have. And for the teenagers and young adults, we remind you of your duties to your parents and the gratitude we should all have to God (Allah) for the blessings of living in Canada,” it said.