- Published on Saturday, 12 December 2009 15:19
- Written by John Draper
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An Imam in Toronto has finally started to speak out against terrorism in Somalia. At a mosque in north Toronto, Imam Saed Rageah devoted his sermon on Friday to denouncing the suicide bombings plaguing his homeland of Somalia. Now this man is not usually known for moderation - he was ranting about critcism of burqas only a month ago. So what made him change?
Several young men from his mosque have disappeared and are believed to now be in Somalia along with at least 20 others from the U.S. They are thought to have joined Al-Shabab, an armed Islamist group in Somalia aligned with al-Qaeda. The same trend has surfaced to varying degrees in the U.K., Australia and Europe.
While families in Toronto worry about their sons, counterterrorism authorities have another concern: what happens if they return to Canada with extremist ideology and terrorist training?
In an interview with the National Post, Imam Rageah said: "If anybody would recruit anyone, then these [type] are the perfect target because they're emotional, they can misinform them easily,"
"They were not people who would sit in the classes and learn and then say, 'OK, well, let me analyze this, what Islam said.' But they would just be more emotional, based on their emotions, and people may take advantage of that and just, boom."
The popular imam never spoke about the missing men in his sermon but he did mention the violence in Somalia. He said he wanted to tackle any misunderstandings that some might have had about suicide bombings, which he said were against the teachings of Islam.
"Before, I don't see anyone who has that mentality from these young people. We haven't noticed any extremes in them. But now I don't know who to trust. I don't know who has those ideas and ideology, so we need to correct them," he said.
The imam was at a conference in India when the men vanished. By the time he returned to Toronto, it was already common knowledge in the Somali community and counterterrorism investigators were on the case. CSIS "visited a lot of people," he said.
"I mean these kids, they don't speak the language, they've never been back home," he said. "They don't know anything about the land. How could they travel from here and go there? There must be some arrangements taking place. That did not happen here, it happened somewhere else so that's what we should look into, who is doing this?"
The RCMP apparently agrees that mosques are not the problem. A June 2009 report by the National Security Criminal Investigations section says that extremists tend to get weeded out of mosques.
Instead, the report says frustrated and curious youths may go looking for answers outside the mosque, where they become vulnerable to a secret underworld where charismatic extremist ideologues lurk.
Imam Rageah was born in Somalia but, after his parents died, he went to live with his brother in Saudi Arabia. Two of his brothers were killed in the persistent fighting that has engulfed Somalia for the past three decades.
After immigrating to Canada in the 1980s, he studied in the United States and became imam at the Ayah Islamic Centre, a mosque in Laurel, Maryland, that came under FBI scrutiny after Sept. 11, 2001.
During the investigation into the 9/11 attacks, it emerged that two of the hijackers who crashed a plane into the Pentagon had left their belongings at the mosque two days before the attacks.
The FBI investigated for 18 months and found no link between the mosque and 9/11. But during the investigation, the FBI claimed Imam Rageah had been fundraising for the Global Relief Foundation, a charity that was allegedly tied to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Again no charges resulted and the case was closed.
Imam Rageah returned to Canada in 2003 and after a few years in Calgary, moved to Toronto to work at the Abu Huraira Centre. On his Facebook fan page, which has more than 1,000 members, followers rave about his lectures.
The good news is that one charismatic, popular Muslim Imam living in the western world is finally seeing the light. It seems that it has to be close to home before it sinks in.
We can only hope there will be more like this.
Get more detail from the original story at the National Post