Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Young Canadian’s conversion to radical Islam leaves family devastated

His father thinks he’s lost. His brother holds out hope. But no one in Harun Abdurahman’s family knows how to turn around the young Canadian man who has become an unapologetic supporter of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Born in Ontario to a Christian family steeped in military tradition, the Manitoba resident told the Star in an earlier interview that he believed last fall’s terror attacks on Parliament Hill and in Quebec were “justified” retribution for Canadian military aggression against ISIS.

“I think a lot of Canadians need to wake up and understand that we’re doing this and worse to other people in other countries,” said Abdurahman, who agreed to be identified only by an online pseudonym that he has adopted.

He spoke about his convictions, his belief that all Muslims should emigrate to Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State has declared a caliphate governed by Sharia law and of learning that he was under investigation by Canadian spies who saw him as a potential threat to national security.

But this turn of events has also had a devastating impact on Abdurahman’s family. Beginning last December, Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents interviewed his ex-girlfriend and older brother in Ontario as well as his father, who is a serving member of the Royal Canadian Air Force in Alberta. The agents carried with them a thick file on the young man.

This week, however, the spy agency told family members they had intensified their investigation.

“They just said that his status was upgraded and they were watching him 24/7,” said Abdurahman’s father, who spoke with the military’s permission on the condition he not be identified. “I told them I didn’t want to hear anymore, that I’ve been watching his feed now on Twitter.”

Harun, who declined a request for comment, seems aware of this, but he is unrepentant.

“I may be in some very big trouble,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

He followed that up the next day, writing: “What can the kuffar (non-believer) do to me? Kill me or try to jail me.”

For this family, admitting the nightmare scenario is one thing, but understanding is another.

“When they showed me their badges and they showed me these tweets, of course I had no choice but to put two and two together and say, that’s my kid,” Abdurahman’s father said.

With the release of a martyrdom video taken just before Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed Parliament last October, the disappearance of six young Quebecers, including two young girls, thought to have fled to Syria and a morbid fascination with the Islamic State’s slick propaganda machine, there has never been a greater urgency or desire to figure out the draw of terrorism for young Canadians.

That need is greatest among the families struggling with limited means and knowledge to protect, persuade or police the aspiring jihadists in their midst. For some that means confiscating passports. For others it is a call to the police.

Abdurahman’s father says he has given up hope while his brother, who agreed to be identified as Thomas, his middle name, said has been pushed into debating the finer points of beheadings and other forms of brutal violence embraced by the terror group when he speaks with Abdurahman.

“I feel like if we push too hard he could just cut the cord and stop talking to us. I wouldn’t want that to happen so I try to just keep a non-judgmental position, let him know that I’m here, that I care about him,” Thomas said.

They are one among several dozen Canadian families struggling to figure out how their child has come to embrace radical Islam. Abdurahman could be considered a textbook case — a rough childhood, teenage brushes with the law and a search for faith by a young man seemingly desperate for direction.

Abdurahman’s father said his son’s path veered violently from a normal course at the age of 6. That was when the boy’s mother succumbed to a brain tumour and the family fell apart. Dad was a trucker and associate pastor at the local church while mom had helped home-school a group of children from the community.

But when Abdurahman’s mother died, the family’s support system disappeared. Church friends stopped checking in, babysitters were no longer free. Abdurahman’s father lost his job as a result.

“Even (Abdurahman) at a young age said: ‘What the hell good are Christians if they can’t help you when you’re hurting?’” he recalled.

The family deteriorated from there. Abdurahman was bounced around, living with his grandparents, his older brother and older sister while his father dealt with his grief and rebuilt a life, which included remarrying and re-enlisting in the military.

At 15, Abdurahman was back living with his father, stepmother and stepsiblings in Edmonton when the family was transferred to a base in Ontario. Rather than follow, he ran away, living at a friend’s house around the corner from his own. Exasperated, Abdurahman’s father filed a police report but was forced to leave his son behind.

Once the family was reunited in Ontario, failed family counselling sessions were followed by Abdurahman’s application to be declared a ward of the court.

“If that’s what you want, I’m not going to hold you back,” Abdurahman’s father recalled saying. “I signed the papers and he went to live at a halfway house for boys (in Ontario) until he was 18.”

It was around this point that Abdurahman got into trouble with the law and decided to try to clean up his life, said his brother. He converted to Islam.

“He was running in a rough crowd and he decided that he wanted better for his life and he got away from that,” Thomas said. “I thought that was great. It wasn’t my choice of avenues, but if it works for him and he had stopped drinking and doing drugs, I’ve got to respect that.”

When Abdurahman was evicted from his apartment in Ontario, he moved in with his father and stepmother in Manitoba, where they had been posted by the military.

Harun’s father didn’t understand his son’s new-found faith, but says he tried to respect it. He purchased halal meat at the grocery store. He started to read the Qur’an. He tried to talk with his son about his beliefs, but didn’t get very far.

“He wasn’t really going to the mosque. If he was, he was going secretly. But I always heard these prayer chants coming from his computer in his room,” Harun’s father said. “I knew he was studying online, but I didn’t know what he was studying because every time I knocked on the door, he brought up a game that he was playing but I could see there were several different pages open on his computer.”

Dad tried to talk to his son about Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, but Abdurahman wouldn’t engage. He would leave the home in the evening and not return until the next morning, never explaining where he was and what he was doing. He brushed off suggestions that he invite his Muslim friends over to the house.

“We celebrated Easter, we celebrated Christmas and he didn’t want to bring his Muslim friends into a Christian home. That’s what he said,” Abdurahman’s father said.

But the final straw was when Abdurahman failed to go to school to finish his high school education or to get a job — conditions of his living arrangement. When the military transferred Abdurahman’s father to Alberta from Manitoba last spring, the young man was cut loose once again.

So nobody saw his turn from a young but committed Muslim convert with a tough upbringing to an online Islamic State cheerleader, one who spreads the group’s propaganda on Twitter, jokes about beheadings and defends the butchery that has been carried out in order to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria, Iraq and beyond.

Canadian spies first contacted Abdurahman’s ex-girlfriend in Ontario last December as part of their investigation into his activities and beliefs. She contacted his older sister and brother, who passed on word to Abdurahman himself.

“I got an honest sense that they were not out to get my brother,” Thomas said. “They were concerned about him. The way they put it to me was that their first concern was the safety of Canadians, and that included my brother.”

Abdurahman’s family doesn’t lack the will to intervene, but they are desperately short of tools. While the federal government rushes new laws into place to criminalize terrorism, experts have decried the precious few programs in existence to turn young minds away from radical Islam.

Thomas said that while Abdurahman has never been a violent person, he does worry about “a progression.”

“Any type of activism can be very peaceful and a matter of people saying what they believe. But there’s always that concern about whether there’s going to be a next step,” he said.

Abdurahman’s father is more troubled by what he says he has learned about his son from the authorities and from the Star’s reporting.

“I’m going to tell you the same thing I told CSIS: would he go out and shoot somebody or set a bomb? I would like to say no as his parent. But given the state of mind that he’s in and the stage he’s at in his life, I could not say that. But I couldn’t say yes for sure either,” he said. “I really do not know what (Abdurahman) is capable of.”

His mother’s death:

“What the hell good are Christians if they can’t help you when you’re hurting?”

Harun Abdurahman, aged 6, following the death of his mother

Studying Islam:

“I always heard these prayer chants coming from his computer in his room. I would say, hey it’s a little loud, why don’t you put your headphones on. I knew he was studying online but I didn’t know what he was studying because every time I knocked on the door he brought up a game that he was playing but I could see several pages were open (on his computer).”

Harun’s father

Harun’s outspoken support for the Islamic State:

“Is this how he’s fighting his perceived battle? Through social media and free speech and saying what he believes and maybe supporting the Islamic State? If so then that’s fine in my opinion … But you can’t help but ask the question: is there a progression?”

Harun’s brother, Thomas

Harun’s future:

“At this point I don’t know what it would take to bring him back.”

Harun’s father


None found.