By Dylan Robertson
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Unconfirmed reports say a young Calgarian is dead after joining Islamic militants in the Middle East.
Farah Mohamed Shirdon was spotted in June fighting with the group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which now calls itself Islamic State.
According to Arabic and English-language reports on social media, mainly from Iraq, Shirdon has been killed.
Nathan Little recalled playing video games with Shirdon, who was a classmate at both John Ware Middle High School and Henry Wise Wood High School.
“He was a pretty normal guy, not very athletic,” said Little, who recalled Shirdon struggling to fit in. He recalled Shirdon as not being religious; rarely attending mosque services despite his mother’s wishes and not fasting during Ramadan.
In a video posted online in June, Shirdon was seen burning his Canadian passport, surrounded by ISIL militants.
Little and other classmates said the enraged man yelling in a heavy accent was radically different from the quiet boy living in Braeside, who spoke like most Calgarians.
Shirdon confirmed to the Herald in a brief online chat in June that he was fighting abroad with the group.
When told his former schoolmates were surprised the quiet young man was now affiliated with a terrorist group, Shirdon asked the Herald: “Why are they astonished there are hundreds of Canadians here?”
Little said Shirdon would occasionally act out but never in a serious way. He said that towards the end of high school, Shirdon got involved with people who used drugs.
Little lost contact with Shirdon three years ago, when he started studying at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Little says that Shirdon’s brothers told him two years ago that “he had been brainwashed” and deleted all his non-Muslim friends from Facebook.
“He was a good guy at heart; he was led down the wrong path,” said Little, who was shocked to see the June video. “The loneliness in his heart overwhelmed him to the point that he fell in with bad people.”
Shirdon’s death has not been officially confirmed. A Foreign Affairs spokesman said Friday that ministry officials are monitoring the situation.
“We are aware of a report of a Canadian killed in Iraq and we’re following the situation closely,” said Jean-Bruno Villeneuve. “We advise against all unnecessary travel to Iraq.”
After the video was spotted in June, the Herald contacted Shirdon through an online messaging service. Shirdon was among scores of Islamic militants using social media to recruit Westerners, though his accounts have fallen quiet for a week.
Shirdon is the third Calgarian in the past year to be publicly reported joining a terrorist group abroad.
Damian Clairmont, 22, was killed in Syria, likely in December or January, while reportedly fighting alongside a group of al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in the country’s civil war.
Also in June, news emerged that Pakistan-born Salman Ashrafi, who grew up in Calgary, was part of a suicide bomb attack in Iraq in November 2013 that left 46 people dead.
Calgary officials say there are roughly 30 Calgarians believed to be fighting with terror groups in North Africa and the Middle East.
Local imam Syed Soharwardy says Muslims in Calgary are dismayed by the news.
“Look at the suffering of Muslims and Christians and Yazidis,” he said. “It is an abuse of our faith, of our holy Qur’an and we condemn these actions.”
Soharwardy says local Muslim leaders are trying to be vigilant against extremist beliefs seeping into their community. He says parents concerned with their youth should reach out to imams “to teach them the correct understanding of Islam.” But he says it’s not just the community’s responsibility.
“The Government of Canada needs to monitor this more closely,” Soharwardy said. “God forbid one of them comes back to Calgary and tries to do something.”
Taking questions at a Friday press conference in London, Ont., Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird couldn’t confirm Shirdon’s death but said his government is concerned.
“It’s a sad reality that, from time to time, a small number of Canadians radicalize and participate in these types of activities,” he said.