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Somali-Canadians joined fight in Horn of Africa: report
Stewart Bell
National Post

 An al-Qaeda-backed militant group fighting in Somalia is made up partly of Canadians, says a declassified intelligence report that warns while some of the insurgents may be dead, others could attempt to return to Canada.

The report by the government's Integrated Threat Assessment Centre confirms reports that members of Canada's large ethnic Somali community have traveled to the Horn of Africa to join the Taliban-like Council of Islamic Courts.

"Some Somali-Canadians have fought as Islamist extremists in Somalia," says the report, Somali-Canadian Islamic Militants. It is marked "Secret" but was released under the Access to Information Act, although portions were removed for national security reasons.

The report says the Canadian government does not know how many Canadians are in Somalia; only 28 have registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs, but the actual number is estimated at somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000.

It does not say how many of those are believed to have joined the Islamic Courts militia headed by Aden Ayro, who was trained in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden's sidekick Ayman Al Zawahiri has been urging his followers to join what he calls the holy war in Somalia.

The Council of Islamic Courts has been trying to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in war-ravaged Somalia, but it appears to be losing the battle against government troops, who are backed by neighbouring Ethiopia, the United States and African Union peacekeepers.

Pro-government forces claim to have killed several militants with Canadian passports and other documents, such as drivers licences and bus passes, that identified them as Somali-Canadians.

"Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Somali Federal Transitional Government (TFG) officials have stated Islamist extremists with Canadian identity documents were among those killed and captured as a result of fighting between TFG-Ethiopian troops and the CIC," the report says.

None of the Somali-Canadian casualties has yet been publicly identified, and some suspect the number of foreign insurgents has been exaggerated to portray the conflict as part of the broader war on terror. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been trying to piece together the fate of those who left Canada to join the insurgency.

"Some will likely remain in Somalia while others, often posing as refugees, will move to other parts of East Africa and Yemen, and may then seek to travel to third countries, such as Canada, as refugee claimants," says the March 6, 2007 report. "Islamist extremists who had been fighting in Somalia, and who hold Canadian passports, may seek to return here."

Canada has the largest ethnic Somali population outside Africa. Between 1989 and 2006, Somalia was Canada's fourth-largest source of inland refugee claimants, behind Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China. Roughly 150,000 Somalis call Canada home.

The report says the al-Qaeda doctrine has little appeal to most ethnic Somalis, who it says are predominantly Sufi Muslims and followers of the Shafi'i school of Islamic law. While jihadist groups such as al-Ittihad al-Islami and al-Takfir wal Hijra were active inside Somalia in the late 1990s, support for Islamic movements deemed too militant, or that pose a threat to the dominance of clans, has been short-lived.

Among those whose whereabouts remain unknown is a former Toronto resident, Asparo, who held a senior post in the Islamic Courts Union. A former member of the Islamic Courts youth militia told the National Post he last saw Asparo practice firing an AK-47 at a training camp in Mogadishu.
Last week, a U.S. citizen received a 10-year prison sentence for training at a n Islamic Courts camp. The 28-year-old Texan, who converted to Islam, was captured trying to flee Somalia and pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

A Canadian was also caught fleeing Somalia late last year. Bashir Makhtal was taken into Kenyan custody and sent to Ethiopia, where he is still detained. He has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing.

CSIS has been investigating the suspected flow of recruits and money to the Somali extremist group, as well as its possible links to domestic terrorist cells in Ontario.


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