The case of three missing University of Manitoba students has caused a great deal of distress within the Winnipeg Muslim community, particularly for some students on the U of M campus.
Ferid Imam, Muhannad al-Farekh and Miawand Yar left for Pakistan in 2007 and have since lost all contact with their Winnipeg families and friends.
Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, said that U of M students have contacted her asking for counseling and advice over the situation.
Some of them have been contacted by the RCMP and CSIS, and were not sure what they should do, Siddiqui explained.
Siddiqui pointed out that although the story has recently received much attention in the media, the boys have been missing for nearly three years, causing a great deal of pain for their families.
“It’s not something that just happened. They have been in anguish not knowing where their loved ones are,” said Siddiqui.
Siddiqui said that she hadn’t heard from either the RCMP or CSIS, and that to her knowledge, no one within the Muslim community knew the whereabouts of the three young men.
“Right now all we have is speculation and assumption. That’s very dangerous,” said Siddiqui, referring to speculations that the men left for Pakistan to become part of radical Islam and join the jihad.
“You’re dealing with people’s lives and you can’t speculate about things.”
Zaenab Saeed, a U of M student and member of the Muslim students’ association, also felt that such speculations were worrisome.
“We have no proof of that, so people shouldn’t start assuming,” said Saeed.
“I think that people are always assuming that Muslims are terrorists. [ . . . ] There’s a bigger picture than just Muslim equals terrorist.”
Another member of the association, Manar Elmekkahj, said she also felt frustrated with certain stereotypes associated with people of the Muslim faith, and found it “ridiculous” that Muslim students had been interviewed by the RCMP and CSIS.
“I think it’s really important for a state to protect its people and protect its country, but sometimes I think they go too far with thoughts of what Muslims or what certain students might do,” said Elmekkahj.
“You don’t just walk up to someone because their name is Mohammed or a girl because she’s wearing a veil and assume that she’s going to automatically be connected to this jihad situation that [people] are bringing up.”
A spokesperson for CSIS could not confirm or deny whether or not the organization had met with any specific individuals as part of investigations, but explained that meeting with individuals and conducting such interviews is part of the process of collecting information to inform the government on any security threats to Canada.
“They’re certainly legal and responsible and we’ll continue to do them,” said CSIS spokesperson Marc Boyer.
“At the same time, we’re certainly grateful for the assistance that people do provide to us during course of any investigation. Certainly the co-operation helps us a lot in ensuring that we can continue our role of keeping Canadians safe.”
The RCMP also refused to confirm or deny whether or not an investigation was taking place into the whereabouts of the three young men.
Sergeant Greg Cox, a media relations officer for the RCMP, explained that the RCMP is concerned about Canadians travelling abroad to take part in terrorism-related activities and “maintains strong linkages with law enforcement agencies around the world to monitor situations such as these.”
Cox stated that the RCMP routinely conducts interviews to gather information in situations such as this.
U of M spokesperson John Danakas said that because of a number of issues, including freedom of information laws, he was not able to comment on whether or not members of the university administration had been contacted by the authorities about the missing students.
“On the same token, I think it’s important to make it clear that the university would co-operate with authorities with any investigation to the extent necessary.”