Canada reels as two of its own linked to Algeria attack
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Canadian news channel CBC has disclosed the identities of two Canadians belonging to the group of Islamist militants killed in the attack on an Algerian gas refinery earlier this year.
The survivors of an attack on Algeria's In Amenas gas refinery earlier this year have not forgotten the hostage taker who was unlike the others.
Blond, blue-eyed, and speaking perfect English, the Islamist militant was one of the leaders in the attack that took place on January 16 that resulted in the deaths of 38 hostages and 29 assailants.
The identity of the “blond jihadist” was disclosed by Canadian public television channel CBC, which located him in the peaceful city of London, Ontario.
His name is Xristos Katsiroubas, a 24 year-old from a Greek Orthodox family, who converted to Islam while in high school.
From ‘friendly and tolerant’ to detached
While at London South Secondary School, Katsiroubas became friends with Ali Medlej, another Canadian jihadist killed in the attack.
The report broadcast by CBC comes in the wake of declarations by Canadian police last month that two Canadians were indeed among the militants killed in the bomb blast at the Algerian gas refinery.
The photo of Katsiroubas, taken from a high school yearbook, is now being flashed across TV screens all over Canada, provoking shock and dismay among residents of the comfortable London area.
Those who knew the young man remember him as “friendly and tolerant”, though he is said to have changed dramatically after dropping out of high school in 2007 and travelling around working odd jobs in Western Canada.
A former friend recalled Katsiroubas’s full beard and detached attitude upon his return to London.
“It was really hard to relate to him at that point. He wasn’t the same. He had other interests kept saying let's go to the mosque,” the friend, who wished to remain anonymous, told CBC.
Questions about Canadian intelligence agency
The CBC journalists’ investigation has also raised questions about the role of Canada's intelligence service, known as the CSIS, which had the two young men on their radar as of 2007 and had questioned their families and friends.
Canadian authorities then presumably lost track of Katsiroubas and Medlej – or stopped their surveillance operations – and their departure abroad went unnoticed.
CSIS agents resumed questioning the families and friends of the two Canadian jihadists two months after the attack on In Amenas, without explaining why or indicating that they were dead.
The Canadian intelligence agency refused to comment when contacted by CBC News.
Meanwhile, CBC sources are investigating two other former students from the same high school, who allegedly left Canada at the same time as Katsiroubas and Medlej. It remains unknown whether the two presumed jihadists participated in the attack on In Amenas, and whether they are still alive.