A Toronto-area Islamic school reportedly attended by four girls who travelled to Syria to join ISIS closed for the day on Tuesday, saying media reports about the school had put students and staff at risk.
“Al-Huda Institute Canada would like to be clear that law enforcement authorities have never brought forward any allegations that four girls associated with the Institute traveled to join terrorist organizations, as alleged in a CBC story,” said Imran Haq, operations manager of the Mississauga-based school, in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
“In addition, the Institute has no knowledge as to the identity of these individuals and as such, cannot confirm whether or not they were enrolled in the Institution, for how long, or any other related information. We are and remain committed to working with authorities on this or any other matter.”
The institute, which has branches around the world, came under heavy scrutiny this week when it was revealed that San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik attended the school in Pakistan, founded by controversial scholar Farhat Hashmi.
Hashmi has been criticized for promoting a conservative strain of Islam, though the school has no known links to extremists.
It is not known how or when Malik was radicalized.
As reported in the Toronto Star last year, three of the four girls — young Toronto women of Somali heritage aged between 15 and 18 — made their way to Syria last year via Cairo and then Istanbul. Two of the girls were sisters, sources told the Star at the time.
But the girls were intercepted by Turkish authorities and sent home after their parents discovered their plans and alerted authorities.
“The parents felt comfortable in contacting police to prevent the young girls from ruining their lives,” Hamilton lawyer Hussein Hamdani, who has worked in the past to help bring together Muslim communities and the police, told the Star last year.
The CBC reported this week that the four girls took evening and weekend seminars at Al-Huda’s Mississauga campus. The oldest of the four has been living in Syria since 2014, her sister told the broadcaster.
Haq, the operations manager at Al-Huda Institute Canada, has said in previous statements that the school condemns any act of violence, and that the allegations that anyone associated with the institute has supported violent extremism are concerning.
“We will do everything we can to work with authorities to get to the bottom of these allegations,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“We are very clear that terrorism is against Islamic teachings and anyone espousing or pledging allegiance to terrorist movements like ISIS or ISIL have clearly deviated from the religious teachings.”
Mia Bloom, professor of communication at Georgia State University who has done extensive research on female terrorists, told the Star that while some groups recruit women as a way to entice men into also joining them, ISIS has made it clear they want women for domestic duties.
“The role for women is pretty much just a support role. They want the women for cooking, cleaning and child care,” she said.
Bloom said Malik’s actions — fatally shooting 14 people along with her husband, Syed Farook — is not what ISIS intends women to do.
“We don’t know enough about Ms. Malik, but certainly that is not the role that ISIS has given women,” she said. “She’s exceeding her bailiwick of what she’s allowed to do…(ISIS) praised her, but stopped short of taking responsibility because she sets a very dangerous precedent.”
– With files from Michelle Shephard and The Associated Press