LONDON, Ontario - Muslim leaders in the Canadian province of Ontario have denied any link of their community to extremism following media reports that two young Canadians were involved in a deadly gas plant attack in Algeria in January.
"I want to make it very clear that the Muslim community unequivocally condemns the alleged acts of these two individuals," Rob Osman, Chair of the London Mosque, told a news conference cited by OnIslam.net.
"The Muslim community in London, Ontario has worked hard to combat radicalization with authorities."Canada Muslims Moderate, Diverse: Study
A special news investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has identified two Canadian involved in the attack as Xristos Katsiroubas, 22, and Ali Medlej, 24.
Both died along with nearly 30 other militants and 37 foreign workers during a four-day standoff that began January 16 at an Algerian natural gas plant.
The young Canadians were high school friends and grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the city of London, Ontario.
Xristos came from a Greek Orthodox family and converted to Islam in his teenager years.
"I want to start by reminding everyone that this is a difficult time, not only for the victims and families of the attack who are now reliving the details but also the families of the alleged perpetrators," said Rob Osman.
"I understand that this is an important breaking story but I would also encourage you to be sensitive to these victims as well."
Osman stressed that the Muslim community in London has been working with security agencies to combat radicalization of youth.
"The Muslim community in London, Ontario has worked hard to combat radicalization with authorities," he said.
"We have recently hosted a fair on public security that brought in the RCMP, CSIS, Department of Justice and Canada Border Services Agency into our prayer hall to bridge gaps between our community and our youth."
Muslim leaders reiterated that religions do not condone violence and terrorism.
"We condemn these things together, not only as a Muslim community but as members of the community at large," Dr. Munir El-Kassem, Imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, told the press conference.
"Faith and terrorism is an oxymoron. They do not exist together."
He expressed concern that there could be a backlash against Muslim youth following the reports.
"Members of our community deserve to continue to live peacefully and away from anxiety and concern," he said.
"We have to work together to combat global phenomena that are affecting all of us."
At the press conference, Osman, the London Mosque leader, said religion is not the cause for the radicalization of youth.
"While they may be linked to cut-and-paste interpretations of a particular religious belief system, a closer examination of root causes often point to political objectives, isolation and alienation and their search for excitement and meaning common to many youth," he said.
"The association of London Muslims has, and will, continue to unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind as this is the opposite to the core teachings of Islam and we are committed to ensuring the safety for our country and fellow citizens, including effective security measures."
Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the country.A survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net