B.C. Muslim Association threatened following Ottawa shootings
The RCMP is investigating threats sent to the B.C. Muslim Association in the wake of two separate attacks on Canadians soldiers this week.
Association spokesman Aasim Rashid said the organization has received multiple messages, mainly via email, that threatened the general Muslim population in the province.
“The idea was to create this fear that you’re not safe from us, from whoever these people are,” Rashid told reporters Friday.
“Whenever that happens we report it to the authorities and take their advice on how to act.”
Hours earlier, Mounties in Alberta confirmed they are probing a disturbing case of vandalism at a mosque in Cold Lake, where windows were smashed and the words “Go home” were spray-painted on walls overnight.
Community members quickly banded together in support of the mosque, helping to remove the graffiti and covering a broken window with a board reading “Love your neighbour.”
News of the threats and vandalism followed two days after Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot and killed a soldier standing honour guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and four days after a separate attack that killed one soldier and left another wounded in Quebec.
Strong condemnations across Canada
The B.C. Muslim Association also reiterated its condemnation of the attacks Friday, and accused the assailants of harming the Islamic faith.
“These are attacks of criminal violence and show utter disregard for human life and the laws of the world, as well as its religions,” Rashid said.
“Perpetrators must carry the burden of tarnishing the image of Islam, creating misunderstandings and possibly animosity for Islam and Muslims, pushing non-Mulims away from the religion, and making it difficult for Muslims to practice.”
The denouncements echoed those of other Muslim groups across Canada this week.
Mounties have been working with the B.C. Muslim community to prevent radicalization through an outreach program since 2005, but Rashid said they hope to step up efforts with a new program.
One element will involve combating the propaganda spread by terror groups like ISIS, using the same social media sites extremists have utilized to recruit impressionable youths.
“This is a preventative program to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about the actual teachings of Islam as opposed to the radical version portrayed by groups like ISIS,” rashid said.
“The program will be a broad program aiming not only to educate, but also to create awareness, to create an environment of non-acceptance to such kinds of criminal violence."
Shooter’s ties to Burnaby mosque
Officials have confirmed Zehaf Bibeau, who has a record of drug addiction and petty crimes in both B.C. and Quebec, spent part of 2011 worshipping at a Burnaby mosque also attended by accused terrorist Hasib Yusufzai, a 25-year-old believed to have flown to Syria to join ISIS.
Members of the Masjid Al-Salaam and Education Centre said Zehaf Bibeau took umbrage with the mosque’s inter-faith outreach programs, and the fact that non-Muslims were welcome inside.
“The mosque administration sat him down and explained to him that this is how they will run the mosque, they will keep the doors open to all,” Rashid said.
The young man eventually started sleeping in the mosque, despite warnings, and was eventually asked to leave. Members said that’s the last interaction they had with him.
Rashid said Yusufzai prayed at the mosque two or three years ago, but was sent away for sharing alarmingly radical views.
Members who are being radicalized generally do so in solitude, seeking out information that reinforces their beliefs on the Internet, he added.
“It’s online. It’s there for whoever chooses to access it and whoever is susceptible to it,” he said.
“Based on what I’ve been reading in the news, there are online forums, there are social media platforms being used, there are propaganda videos being used through YouTube and whatnot and anyone who is anywhere in the world has access to this.”
It's incredibly rare for B.C. Muslims to show signs of radicalization, he added.
RCMP Asst. Commissioner Wayne Rideout said there are no current threats identified in B.C., but the public is encouraged to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to their local police department.