Joining the world of radical Islam:
Extremism offers troubled young Canadians a reason to feel superior
By Stewart Bell, National Post, February 8, 2013
Two years ago, an Australian police officer named Joe Ilardi arrived in Toronto to try to answer a disturbing question: what was turning some young Canadians into raving Islamists who yearned to wage anti-Western violence at home and abroad?
With the help of the RCMP, Senior Sgt. Ilardi interviewed seven young Toronto men he defined as “Canadian Muslim radicals.” All but one, an immigrant from Pakistan, were Canadian-born. Four had converted to Islam, including a former Mohawk Warrior.
After meeting the men several times for up to six hours in total, Sgt. Ilardi came to an unconventional conclusion: while they had bought into the narrative that justifies violence as a response to the West’s so-called “war on Islam,” they had done so largely for personal reasons.
They were not the downtrodden seeking political justice. Rather, they were deeply troubled youths who had found, in extremism, a reason to feel superior. In their minds, they had joined an exclusive fraternity that knew the truth. They weren’t losers after all; they were better than everyone else.
“The appeal of an ideology which replaced feelings of inferiority with superiority, or which provided clarity of purpose where previously there was only purposelessness, for some men, seemed irresistible,” noted Sgt. Ilardi, a member of the Counter-Terrorism Coordination Unit of the Melbourne-based Victoria Police.
His conclusions on how they become infatuated with jihadist ideology offer insights into a problem that is putting Canadians at risk and damaging Canada’s international reputation as more Canadian terrorists are identified overseas — most recently in Bulgaria and Algeria.
This week, a suspected Canadian member of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah was blamed for the July 18, 2012 bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists on their way to the Black Sea coast. An Australian is also suspected of involvement. Six died in the blast.
Two weeks ago, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalik Sellal said a pair of Canadians were involved in last month’s siege at the In Amenas gas plant that left 38 workers dead. Witnesses told reporters one of the attackers was a blonde-haired Canadian, possibly of Chechen origin.
The RCMP is investigating but has not yet publicly confirmed any of the attackers were Canadians. “Canadian officials are on the ground in Algeria working with Algerian officials to get the necessary information,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s spokesman, Rick Roth, said Friday.
Another Canadian, William Plotnikov, a former Toronto boxer and Seneca College student, was killed by Russian security forces in Dagestan last July while fighting with Islamist rebels. He had become radicalized by a Toronto imam after converting, according to his father.
Canadian volunteers have been turning up in Somalia as well. In 2009, a half-dozen Somali-Canadian youths left to join the al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabab. In 2011, a 25-year-old was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport as he was allegedly leaving to join.
“CSIS is aware of at least 45 Canadians, possibly as many as 60, many in their early twenties, who have travelled or attempted to travel from Canada to Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to join al Qaeda-affiliated organizations and engage in terrorism-related activities,” Richard Fadden, the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, testified last April.