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Canadian youth with 'identity issues' drawn to radicalization: expert
The RCMP is continuing its investigation to determine whether a group of Quebecers arrested over the weekend is linked to a wider terrorist network.
Authorities questioned and released 10 Montreal-area youths suspected of wanting to join Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
The youths were arrested at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport last weekend just as they were about to board a flight bound for Syria.
No charges have been laid, but all 10 of the youths, including some minors, had their passports confiscated.
Another young man was also taken into custody at his Montreal home, reportedly in connection with the group.
In a statement, the RCMP said this was a "very difficult time" for the relatives of the young Montrealers.
"These are very difficult times for the relatives and loved ones of the persons arrested, as the decision to leave the country was not that of the family, but of a single family member," the statement said.
"As a result, family members often find themselves at a complete loss and unable to understand the decision made by the youth."
The arrests come after reports earlier this year of young Montreal residents leaving Canada to allegedly join ISIS.
Both the latest arrests and an incident at the beginning of this year have a connection to the College de Maisonneuve.
Four of those detained this weekend were students at the school.
And in mid-January, six young Montrealers left the country to join ISIS fighters, likely stationed in Syria. Four of the group members also attended the College de Maisonneuve.
In April, another two 18-year-old students from Montreal were charged with terror-related offences after being accused of attempting to leave Canada to commit a terrorist act abroad.
El Mahdi Jamali and Sabrine Djaermane are also accused of possessing an explosive substance, facilitating a terrorist act, and committing an act under the direction or for the profit of a terrorist organization.
The two have pleaded not guilty.
Growing appeal of ISIS
Rex Brynen, a political science professor at McGill University, said he doesn't believe Montreal is a hotbed for jihad recruiting, but that ISIS has a growing appeal for youth across the West.
"A lot of it has to do with it being just a trendy, trendy brand. It doesn't have to do with a deep philosophical reflection on what the Islamic State stands for," Brynen told CTV Montreal.
Brynen says that radicalization often occurs in clusters of teens who are pressuring each other to join via social media.
"Partly it is an act of teenage rebellion, partly individuals looking for an answer like a street gang or cult," said Brynen.
In particular, Lorne Dawson, a radicalization expert at the University of Waterloo, says that it is it adolescents who are struggling with "identity issues" who are prone to fall under its sway.
"When we're dealing with youth leaving for Syria, it is getting younger and younger all over the Western world," Dawson told CTV's Power Play.
"Ten is a very large group, and this shows that the element of group pressure is absolutely crucial in the process," he added.
Dawson also believes it is likely the group was discovered through the use of social media.
"It is so pervasive now that I think younger people are probably a little overconfident in using these means of communication, so ironically … it is getting easier and easier to detect people," Dawson said.
Amira Elghawaby, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told CTV News Channel that ISIS propaganda on social media has struck a chord with disenchanted youth.
"This particular violent extremist ideology has been extremely successful in selling itself as a brand (and) … doing all it can to get into the minds of people who may be susceptible to that sort of sway," said Elghawaby.
In response to radicalization, Elghawaby says that governments need to be proactive in working with Muslim communities to help engage youths, rather than focusing on arrests and spying.
"They're the ones that have the most to gain from ensuring this doesn't happen again, because it is their young people that can be lured away, killed and get involved in terrorist activity –- nobody wants that," said Elghawaby.
Public Safety Minister: ‘We have to remain vigilant’
Responding to the latest arrests, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney thanked community leaders and family members for working with police to stop Canadians from travelling overseas to join terror groups.
"This has prevented those individuals from falling into the trap of terrorism," Blaney told CTV Montreal. "We want to keep on this action but we want to intervene earlier at the radicalization stage."
A family member of one of the youths reportedly alerted authorities to the situation.
Blaney said the government, police and community leaders have been working together to educate communities on how to recognize the "signs of radicalization," and to provide a "counter narrative" for at-risk youth.
'We can now move from a sphere of criminalization to pre-criminalization, where we are acting earlier in terms of radicalization," he told CTV News Channel.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters the province is planning to bring forth policies to help identify and prevent youth from heading overseas to join terrorist groups.
"We are always concerned about this, given the fact that it seems to be our youth, born here, in our learning institutions," he said.
With files from CTV Montreal, The Canadian Press and a report from CTV News' Genevieve Beauchemin