Just as Canada's national security experts are hearing about the growing "phenomenon" of foreign fighters, reports have emerged that a young Canadian who joined a terrorist-linked group was killed in battle in Libya over the weekend.
Omar Egwilla, the son of a former Canadian imam who reportedly tried to recruit his peers to "take part in jihad," died in Benghazi on Saturday, after being injured in clashes against government forces.
Egwilla's death was announced on social media accounts linked to Libyan fighters, who posted that he was killed fighting the "infidel forces" of Libyan Gen. Khalida Haftar, according to SITE Intelligence Group reports cited by the National Post.
Facebook accounts listed as belonging to Egwilla's family members are mourning on the former University of Ottawa student's death online, with many posting photos and condolence messages in Arabic in the last 24 hours
Egwilla, a member of the militia called the Omar al Mukhtar Brigade, died from injuries sustained two days prior in clashes around Bengazi University, according to the Libya Observer.
He had been studying medicine at Tripoli University and joined the brigade to "fight the fresh military operation launched by Haftar," the website reported, adding that 38 militants were killed over the weekend, while 50 more were wounded during the clashes.
The Omar al Mukhtar brigade, according to SITE's director Rita Katz, is tied to Ansar al Sharia — a Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate with the goals of cleaning "the Arabian Peninsula of foreign influence" and establishing "a single Islamic caliphate in place of the existing regimes in Yemen and Saudi Arabia."
Ansar al Sharia is listed by the Canadian government as a terrorist organization.
Egwilla's father is Libyan-Canadian imam Abdu Albasset Egwilla. He took his son to join the "extremist group," Fathi Baja, Libya's ambassador to Canada, claimed in an interview with the Post. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
"In fact, his father pushed him," Baja said about the cleric, who came to the attention of a Canadian terrorism surveillance agency after appearing in a YouTube video, encouraging people to take up arms in Libya.
"Jihad today is simple and easily accessible, and does not require moving as in the past, as it was for Afghanistan and Iraq," the cleric said in the video, according to a declassified report from the Centre.
Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Diana Khaddaj told VICE News in a statement that the department was aware that a "Canadian citizen has passed away in Libya," but couldn't provide further details, citing privacy concerns.
Canada is extremely concerned about foreign fighters "participating in terrorist activities perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State," said the statement, adding that the "phenomenon" is a key priority for Canada's national security agencies.
On Monday, Michel Coloumbe, the director of CSIS, Canada's spy agency, told the Senate National Security and Defense committee that his agency is aware of 180 extremists who have left Canada to participate in terrorist activities. The number has gone up from 145 in 2014.
About 100 of these people are in Syria and Iraq. Another 60 people have returned to Canada and are a potential threat, said Coloumbe. This number has dropped from 80 in 2014, which the director attributes to a number of people coming back to Canada and leaving again, and a number who, it turned out, were not involved in terrorist activities overseas.
It's unclear how many Canadian extremists have died fighting overseas, but one report cited at least six in a two month period last year.
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk
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