Canadians Involved in Algerian Al-Qaeda Attack

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Remember the attack on a natural gas plant in the Algerian desert last January? A band of Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants stormed the gas plant deep in the desert and took dozens of foreign workers hostage. A four-day standoff followed before the Algerian army moved in, guns blazing. In the end, more than 60 people were dead including hostages and attackers. Well, now we find out that two of the dead attackers were Canadian. According to police in Canada, they were a couple of young men from London, Ontario. Now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are trying to piece together what led these young men to leave Canada to take part in the attack in Algeria. Adrienne Arsenault is a reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She broke the story before the police announced the names of the two militants. Adrienne, tell us how you found out about these men, Ali Medlej and Kris Katsiroubas.

Adrienne Arsenault: Well, this was really an investigation throughout the CBC. Really within the last week the pieces started to come together. The realization that simply going through yearbooks, every high school yearbook in the city, for a period of about a decade, until it became clear that these two men were tracked to one particular high school, which is London South Secondary School. A very big school, good school, good neighborhood. These two young men hadn't been in the same class but they were friends throughout high school.

Werman: Help us understand the time line here. Where did they train? When did they go to Algeria?

Arsenault: These are great questions. You know, so much of this is still uncertain. We know that, in the case of Kris, he first left school in 2007. Ali graduated in 2006. We can track them to Edmonton in 2007, where Ali and Kris and another young man travelled and tried to find work. Didn't do very well, they got in trouble with the law, they got evicted. The pictures show they punched through doors and just trashed a poor woman's apartment, and she threw them out. It didn't go very well for them, so they came back to London, Ontario. Kris at some point in high school had converted to Islam. These kids were kids who were having trouble at home. In Kris's case, he seemed to be a quiet guy who was a little bit marginalized from what we can tell from some of his other friends. They just were floundering. We can trace a third young man named Aaron Yoon, who was not part of the attack but was from the same high school, also converted, also hung around with them, is now sitting in a jail in Mauritania. He was arrested before the attack. He was arrested, according to the officials in Mauritania, as being connected with a group of jihadists. But he's still sitting there. He professes his innocence, but what he has to do with all this we're still trying to piece that together.

Werman: And so what's going to happen to this third man, Aaron Yoon? Will he be extradited to Canada at some point?

Arsenault: There are Canadian diplomats on their way to talk to the officials and to him. You know, it's interesting that they're doing that now. We can trace that he's been in jail since at least the summer of 2012. I think a lot of time has come and gone. We don't know exactly how much contact they have had with him. His family, until a few days ago, were saying, no, he's fine, he's not in jail. He's overseas and he's free to travel and free to talk. Apparently not.

Werman: Adrienne, is it clear how these three men became part of an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Sahara Desert?

Arsenault: This is the big disturbing mystery that's keeping a lot of people awake at night, because on the face of it, they seemed to have every opportunity you would want to give your kids. You know, London is a small city, this is generally a clean, safe, good neighborhood and community. The thinking is at this point that someone turned them, and some people believe that the person who turned them is here, some think that person is overseas. And the reason I keep saying that person is because it's also quite clear to us that there's a fourth. And we don't know who or where he is, dead or alive. That we don't know. So if we can figure that out we can start to try to figure out who might be the recruiter, who might be the turner here.

Werman: The CBC's Adrienne Arsenault, reporting from London, Ontario about those local men who were part of that January attack in Algeria.