“Homegrown” Canadian terrorists died in Algerian attack

Part of the refinery in Ain Amenas, Algeria, where the terrorist attack took place. Photo: Royston Ford, CC some rights reserved

File this under “What should be done about certain uncomfortable facts?”

As reported by CBC on April 1 at least two Canadians were among those who staged the Algerian terrorist attack last January:

A special CBC News investigation has confirmed the two al-Qaeda linked militants were Xristos Katsiroubas, 22, and Ali Medlej, who was believed to be about 24 years old at the time of their deaths.

The attack by the two Canadians and 30 other militants linked to al-Qaeda left more than three dozen refinery workers dead, the final 10 of whom were reportedly tied to gas plant piping and killed in a massive bomb blast.

Sources say it is likely Katsiroubas and Medlej intentionally blew themselves up in the blast; one of them could be only identified by DNA testing.

Why would young Canadians born and raised in this culture – you know nice, “normal” kids from comfortable middle-class lives – go to Algeria to kidnap, kill and die? 

What happened? And what might it mean in terms of identifying and preventing other terrorist attacks? These issues have already received much attention. This newest case will generate even more.

The brutal Algerian raid that played out over four days was news from the get-go. In its aftermath, word circulated that Canadians may have been among the perpetrators. According to CBC:

Police sources say Katsiroubas is the likely attacker whom survivors have described as blond-haired and speaking fluent “North American English.”

A friend of the two dead men, 24-year-old Aaron Yoon, also traveled to North Africa to study at a religious school in Mauritania. According to CBC coverage, Yoon was arrested there in the summer of 2012 and he did not partake in the refinery siege. (Media inferences about Yoon’s actions and motives remain largely speculative at this point. His arrest came long before the January attack.)

Ian Austen wrote about Canadians killed in the refinery siege – and how this develpoment fits into other security concerns in Canada – in this New York Times article of 4/2/13.

Reporter Christie Blatchford offered up this op-ed saying after the Toronto 18 Canada should no longer be surprised by home-grown terrorists.

And? What next? Here are a few responses from Ottawa Citizen coverage of 4/4/13:

Security experts have said that the case highlights a need to look into better mechanisms to track people who are deemed to be security threats when they leave the country.

Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director at CSIS, went so far as to suggest in an interview this week that authorities be given the opportunity to remove passports from people who are deemed to be security threats — though he added that such individuals should be given the right to appeal.

The challenge of preventing terrorism – while upholding civil liberties – continues.

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11 Comments on ““Homegrown” Canadian terrorists died in Algerian attack”

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  1. mervel says:

    Beyond the horror it is fascinating, as you said these were not oppressed struggling young men who were acting out against western imperialism, they were products of the West.

    I am not sure how they got connected to go to Algeria?

  2. Kent Gregson says:

    Sorry, but I can’t see these people as “studying religion”. Maybe they’re studying how to subvert religion to rationalize criminal activities. Anyone who actually studies religion soon runs into things like “Thou shalt not kill” and “vengence is mine, saith the Lord”. What narrow interpretation could possibly justify their criminal offences? None whatsoever.

  3. mervel says:

    I know. But I think it is important to really look and try to understand, instead of simply saying they are evil and subverting religion, I think they certainly do evil acts, but in war one persons evil is another person’s struggle for freedom.

    I am not excusing this, but I really think it is important to understand the thinking so we can help guide and hopefully stop the consequences of this particular ideology.

    A lot of people really did support Al-Quida, not always directly and not always everything they do or did, but there was a draw, the question is why? Until we understand the tremendous attraction that this sort of thing holds for some young men, I don’t think we can stop it.

  4. mervel says:

    Turn it over a little. Even now we see some moderate support in the West for groups like Hamas and Hezbhola, these are groups that do the same sort of things that these guys did down in Algeria. So a terrorist who kills a Jew in Israel is somehow more justified than a terrorist who attacks an oil pipeline in a country that has arguably a corrupt regime running it? The same mindset drives both of these actions and groups.

  5. JDM says:

    What happened?

    I guess the question to you, Lucy, is what do you think is being taught in religious schools in Mauritania?

    Be kind to one another?

    I don’t think so.

  6. Paul says:

    This guy Yoon hadn’t seen them in two years. A lot can happen to a 20 something in two years. I don’t think it means they were “normal”.

  7. Lucy Martin says:

    There are a lot of ways to go off the rails, and a lot of fringe groups that will lure people in that direction.

    (Al-Qaeda,Taliban, Wahhabi movement, IRA, ETA (“Basque Homeland and Freedom”), KKK, etc., etc…)

    It’s not just radical Islam, though that’s what we think of first these days.

    Any culture needs to understand what produces enough alienation to make terrorism seem attractive. And what so-called ‘religious schools’ might be teaching.

    I can’t remember where I read it anymore (James Fallows in the Atlantic??) but some observers were saying – very plainly – that Wahhabi centers were openly teaching whole generations to hate and fight the west, years before 9/11.

    And they were right. “Religious schools’ did produce adherents to the path of terror.

    It’s something that should have been understood better and sooner. So we should pay attention now too.

    Having said that, I don’t want to see legitimate Islam slandered or provide more excuses to abandon civil liberties.

    It’s a hard thing to balance.

  8. Mervel says:

    I think also we should not conflate extreme devotion for something that is dangerous to society. To be willing to and in fact called to give up one’s life for your faith is part of many faiths, including Christianity.

  9. Walker says:

    “Anyone who actually studies religion soon runs into things like ‘Thou shalt not kill” and “vengence is mine, saith the Lord’.”

    There have been clergy attached to the armies of virtually all the battles ever fought, praying for victory in battle, i.e. success in killing the enemy. I don’t think you can count on those biblical verses to keep people from killing– “holy books” always have plenty of passages you can interpret to support whatever position you like.

  10. mervel says:

    Well Walker “Vengence is mine, saith the Lord” is a passage against violence. It means that we have no need for retribution against any enemy, if we have true faith that is.

    In general many Religious traditions have indeed stood against violence, but they have also been part of it, no doubt about it.

    I think though that is not helpful to us in this discussion. This is about why do young men become drawn to a sort of violent martyrdom that kills innocent people? Not just crazies, but really a small but steady stream of men who find this ideology appealing, what is happening that this would be so?

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