Iraq suicide bomber was once a Calgary business analyst who ‘seemed like a regular guy’
National Post | June 04, 2014
Stewart Bell | June 4, 2014 | Last Updated: Jan 24 11:59 PM ET
A suicide bomber who attacked an Iraqi army base last November was a Calgary business analyst who left the country in 2012, friends said Wednesday amid rising concerns about the flow of Canadians to overseas terror groups.
Those who knew Salman Ashrafi said they had lost all contact with him after the Pakistani-Canadian suddenly quit his job and moved away. And now they know why: He apparently died seven months ago after detonating a car bomb north of Baghdad.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria posted his photo online in March, calling him Abu Abdullah Al Khorasani, but a Calgary Muslim community leader said the man was Ashrafi, a privileged Pakistani-Canadian.
“He seemed like a regular guy and he was one of those guys that actually had a career, had a wife,” the man said.
A University of Lethbridge graduate, he had worked for Talisman Energy and Exxon. “The guy was stable.”
Like its Western allies, Canada has been struggling to deal with the growing number of youths joining extremist groups in Syria. About 130 Canadians are currently serving in factions aligned with Al-Qaeda — about 30 of them in Syria alone.
Including Ashrafi, at least four have died in the past year. The danger they pose to the public was underscored on May 24 when a gunman opened fire in a Brussels museum, killing three people. Police later arrested a man who had fought with Islamists in Syria.
“There is significant concern that extremism in Syria will result in a new generation of battle-hardened extremists who may seek to return to their home countries or export terrorism abroad,” the Canadian Security Intelligence Service website says.
The RCMP and CSIS are investigating a handful of Calgary men who have taken up arms in Syria. Ashrafi lived in the same downtown apartment building as several of the others who went abroad around the same time.
“This is quite a concern to me,” said Syed Soharwardy, a Calgary imam who has been outspoken against extremist violence. “I think the government should do something. This is going on under their noses and they are just ignoring it.”
The Ashrafi family moved to Calgary from Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, when the father accepted a position at the University of Calgary, the imam said. Salman, one of three children, was in Grade 5 or 6 at the time.
“Those kids, they grew up in front of me,” he said, adding he used to fix their computers. “They were not marginalized, they were a very good, well-off family.”
They became naturalized Canadian citizens but the father later moved to Oman to work at a university. He could not be reached for comment.
The bombing was part of a wave of attacks by ISIS, also known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a proscribed terrorist entity under Canadian law. The Public Safety Canada website says the group’s goal is to “wage jihad to expel foreign, non-Muslim forces from Iraq, and to overthrow Iraq’s democracy and replace it with an Islamic state that enforces Islamic law.”
On Nov. 7, 2013, a car exploded at the gate of an Iraqi army base in Tarmiyah. A second car then entered the compound and exploded in a crowd of soldiers and militiamen. At least 19 were reported killed and another 41 injured. It is unclear which vehicle may have been driven by Ashrafi.
“How this happened, I’m not sure,” said Iqbal Nadvi, director of the Alfala Islamic Centre in Oakville, Ont. He knew the Ashrafi family in Calgary and said Salman was a “very quiet person” who might have had a personal crisis.
In a statement Wednesday, the National Council of Muslim Canadians said it was a crime to leave Canada to join a terrorist group and urged those with information about “the promotion of violent extremism” to contact the authorities.
“Further, our communities need to openly discuss misunderstood concepts such as jihad in order to demystify and deglamorize the message of those who would prey upon our youth and most vulnerable,” executive director Ihsaan Gardee said.