September 02, 2014 - 3:24 PM
KAMLOOPS - Current and former TRU students have expressed shock and confusion after learning an alumnus and former Wolfpack volleyball team member joined forces with an international terrorist organization.
Brothers Collin and Gregory Gordon, originally from Calgary, disappeared in 2012 only to turn up in Syria after the pair were allegedly recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, commonly referred to as ISIS.
ISIS, an extremist sunni jihadist organization was once linked to al-Qaida but has since parted from the group. Members of ISIS claim the goal of the group is to hold religious authority over Muslims in the middle east. Terror attacks linked to ISIS have ranged from bombings to mass killings and the decapitations of journalists James Foley and, today, Steven Sotloff.
Before joining the organization, Collin attended Thompson Rivers University between 2008 and 2009 where he studied marketing and played volleyball for the Wolfpack team. During his term in Kamloops, Collin founded a social club to create events and parties on and off campus. He also attempted a rap career after working with rapper Swisslizz.
“I did not see this coming,” said a former classmate who asked to remain anonymous. He said Collin took an interest in the Kamloops night life and often invited people to attend through his Facebook page.
“He was a pretty forward guy, like super-sociable.... He tried a rap career and everything,” said the classmate who says he "unfriended" Collin after news broke. "I never expected him to fall into ISIS."
“It’s a very sad thing,” said TRU political science professor Derek Cook. “But it’s also important to distinguish between those who are genuinely religious and those who are using religion for nefarious political purposes.”
Both brothers converted to Islam upon their return to Calgary and became friends with Salman Ashrafi who eventually moved to Syria.
Ashrafi allegedly drove a car full of explosives to an Iraqi army base where he committed a suicide bombing in 2012.
Collin remains active on his Twitter and Facebook accounts, under his given name Collin Gordon and his Twitter pseudonym Abu Ibrahim Canadi. Both pages cite texts from the Qur'an. Collin's Twitter page shows his change in character, from fantasizing about celebrity Nicki Minaj and praising President Obama to blatant ISIS propaganda.
Last Friday the federal government released the 2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada which contained the following statement:
“As of early 2014, the Government was aware of more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and who were suspected of terrorism-related activities. These included involvement in training, fundraising, promoting radical views and even planning terrorist violence. Some extremist travellers remain abroad. Others have returned to Canada, while still others are presumed dead.”
Syria is the primary destination for extremist travellers.
While it is unknown if the brothers plan to make a return to Canada, family members in a statement to CBC said: “We would like all to know we love and miss our sons dearly. We are deeply concerned for their safety. At this time we refuse to speculate with regards to the end of their story. We continue to keep hope alive.”
There are few answers as to what happened with the brothers from Calgary, but Cook plans to explore these questions at a public forum to be held at the TRU Arts and Education Building room 262 on Sept. 4 at 4 p.m.
“Is there anything a university can do to steer young people, students in a positive direction rather than join a bunch of mass murderers?” asked Cook. “We may be able to do something, we may be able to do very little - but the idea is to talk about it and see what the reality of this particular type of vicious terrorism is.”
-With files from CBC News.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014