The nearly three-year-old civil war in Syria was suddenly brought a little closer to home last week when it was reported that two Canadians were killed in the fighting.
Both men had converted to Islam, both were under surveillance by Canadian authorities for suspected terrorist activity and both travelled freely to take up arms alongside Islamic extremists in war-torn Syria in late 2012.
The first death reported in the media was that of 22-year-old Mustafa al-Gharib, who was born in Nova Scotia as Damian Clairmont. After his family moved to Calgary, Clairmont had some difficult years as an ostracized teen and was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. Following a suicide attempt at age 17, he converted to Islam.
According to Gerry Boudreau, Clairmont’s grandfather, the family was made aware that Canadian security officials had been watching al-Gharib only after he had departed Canada for Syria.
The second Canadian killed in battle last week in Syria was 24-year-old Timmins resident Andre Poulin. Like Clairmont, Poulin converted to Islam as a teen and he took the name Abu Muslim. By whichever name he used, Poulin was well known to local authorities in Timmins. He had a criminal record for uttering death threats, harassment and carrying a weapon.
He also posted blogs online claiming he had been jailed on accusations of terrorism for plotting to blow up a gas station. Both Clairmont and Poulin joined units of non-Syrian foreign volunteers once they arrived in Syria.
Both Canadians were fighting in the ranks of Islamic fundamentalists, with links to al-Qaida, against the government forces of embattled President Bashar al-Assad. Illustrative of how complex the Syrian civil war truly has become, Clairmont was killed by Free Syrian Army rebels in an inter-rebel clash, while Poulin died battling militia allied to the Assad government.
Those who closely follow the Syrian conflict may recall that last September, Ali Mohamed Dirie, another Canadian volunteer in the ranks of al-Qaida-inspired rebels, was killed in battle against Assad loyalists.
Dirie was well known to Canadian authorities as he had been arrested in the 2006 terrorism plot that became known as the Toronto 18.
This motley collection of homegrown terrorists had grandiose plans to blow up the CN Tower, Toronto Stock Exchange and Parliament buildings. They also schemed to somehow kidnap Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then behead him live on CBC television during the nightly broadcast of Peter Mansbridge’s The National.
Dirie was convicted for his part in this ambitious plot, and imprisoned until 2011. Following his release, it was not long before Dirie was drawn to the sound of war drums in Syria and, somehow, he was allowed to travel there.
Since the outset of hostilities in Syria in March 2011, Assad has publicly claimed that the rebel ranks are full of international terrorists, not the democracy-seeking, fun-loving rebels as described by the majority of the Western media.
Of course, Western leaders laughed at Assad’s claims and denounced them as the delusional propaganda of a hated dictator who does not want to face the truth about his people. After last week’s reported deaths, we now know that at least three rebels were Canadian Islamic extremists, with some serious mental issues who were considered threats by Canadian authorities.
In April 2013, it was reported that the biggest threat feared by Canadian domestic security agencies was that Canadian volunteers fighting in Syria would become radicalized by their al-Qaida comrades. At that juncture, Canadian intelligence estimated the number of such volunteer fighters could number in “multiple dozens.”
Following the news of Clairmont and Poulin’s deaths, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird appeared totally unperturbed when he told reports that it didn’t “come as a surprise,” adding, “there is probably more than one Canadian that is fighting with the [Syrian] opposition.”
In other words, no big deal if known Canadian Islamic extremists want to head off to a foreign war zone, just so long as they are not targeting the U.S. or a western ally.
What an unbelievable double standard.