EDMONTON — The leader of a Somali group has written to the prime minister warning that young people in Alberta are being recruited to become fighters for the radical group ISIL.
In his letter, Mahamad Accord says he has solid sources, including elders, who say youths from the Somali community as young as 16 have signed up to become terrorist soldiers.
“Parents of these young men and women are extremely worried about this terrorist group and the fact that their sympathizers are recruiting our youth to fight in this losing war,” he wrote in his letter to Stephen Harper dated Sept. 15.
The extremely violent ISIL insurgency, also known as ISIS, broke out earlier this year, taking control of cities and land in parts of Iraq and Syria.
In an interview Wednesday, Accord, who is president of the Edmonton-based Canadian Somali Congress Western Canada, said he doesn’t have any hard numbers on how many young people have been recruited.
He declined to give any names of people who have been recruited or their families, citing privacy concerns.
Accord said some youths who have left their families have called home from countries such as Turkey without any explanation.
In his letter, he asks the prime minister for programs to reach out to disaffected Somali youth to counter ISIL recruiters.
“It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would safeguard our safety and security,” he said. “We need resources to counter these terrorists.
“Our strategy is detect early and prevent to protect vulnerable youth from being drawn into terrorism.”
Accord estimates there are about 35,000 people of Somali descent living in Alberta, including about 15,000 in Edmonton.
He said most are moderate and hard-working Muslims who despise and reject ISIL and other terror groups.
Accord said the Somali community wants to work with Canadian authorities and police to fight against these extremists.
“We cannot sit idly to see these criminals putting our young lives at risk and becoming a pawn for ISIS terrorists.”
An official with the Prime Minister’s Office responded to a request for comment on Accord’s letter by noting the Conservative government is a proud partner in the global fight against terrorism.
“And we have given security agencies a number of tools to combat terrorism and continue protecting law-abiding Canadian families from those who would seek to do them harm,” Carl Vallee, Harper’s press secretary, wrote in an email.
“Despite the objections of the Liberals and NDP, our government recently passed legislation that would allow for Canadian citizenship to be revoked from dual-nationals who engage in the most serious crimes including acts of terrorism.
“In addition, we passed the Combating Terrorism Act and introduced Canada’s first counterterrorism strategy — a four-pronged approach to prevent, detect, deny resources and respond to terrorist activity and threats.”
Vallee’s response did not mention Accord’s letter or some of the specific points it raises about the need for programs and resources to reach out to disaffected Somali youth in Canada.
Last month a prominent imam of the Islamic Supreme Council in Calgary went on a 48-hour hunger strike to raise awareness that ISIL is not a part of the Muslim community.
Imam Syed Soharwardy said that ISIL is destroying peace and creating a negative image of Islam.