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TERRORISM

Report links former London duo to Algerian gas plant attack

By Jennifer O'Brien, Patrick Maloney, The London Free Press

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Xristos Katsiroubas was completely forgettable.

That’s the memory — such as it is — of a former South Secondary school classmate of the teenager she remembers bedecked in hoodies, saying little and keeping few friends.

But his face, which she’d all but forgotten, left her in awe Monday night when he was identified in a national television news report as that of one of two London men linked to a terrorist attack that killed dozens at a North African gas plant in January.

“You know the cliche: he was a loner who kind of stayed to himself,” the woman, now 22, said of Katsiroubas. “I remember a guy who wore baggy jeans, hoodies, glasses.

“He was forgettable. Not an academic standout by any means.”

His name and that of another former South student, Ali Medlej, will be memorable now following a jaw-dropping CBC report Monday that cited unidentified sources in identifying the London pair as the Canadians whose bodies were found in the gas-plant wreckage.

Efforts to contact the relatives of both men Monday were unsuccessful. Free Press attempts to speak with Katsiroubas family members at two homes were rebuffed — a man refusing to answer the door; a woman slamming the door in a reporter’s face.

“No thank you,” she said.

In South’s 2005-06 yearbook, Katsiroubas looks predictably normal — a skinny Grade 10 kid in a T-shirt.

And now, he and Medlej are at the centre of a story that’s sending shockwaves nationwide and putting London at the centre of a stunning story — two Canadians implicated in the deaths of dozens.

Around 70 people died when Algerian troops stormed the Tigantourine desert gas plant near the town of In Amenas and ended the hostage-taking in January. Algeria’s prime minister said at the time that a Canadian gunman had coordinated the operation.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police went to Algeria to investigate. A police spokesperson last month told Reuters that two Canadian men had been identified from the remains of the suspected attackers.

“Our investigation into this matter continues and no further information will be given at this time,” the spokesperson said.

Monday, indications the attackers were from London had become a dramatic point of conversation across the city.

The CBC report cited another unnamed former classmate saying he recalls Katsiroubas moving toward Islam, and showing a growing interest in attending a mosque in London.

“I think the immediate reaction is ‘What?’ ‘Here?’” London Muslim Mosque board member Wael Haddara said after contacting younger members of the community to ask if anyone had heard of the two men. “So far nobody knows who these people are.

“I don’t know them and I think I know most of the younger people who come to the mosque by first-name basis,” he said.

Haddara said the mosque has not been contacted by police or CSIS about the situation, but said board members and staff would welcome any inquiries.

“It sounds funny, telling law enforcement authorities through the newspaper that we are more than happy to talk to them, but we are,” he said.

Last month, the mosque held an open house, hosting representatives from CSIS, RCMP and police agencies who had displays and spoke to Muslims attending prayers.

Haddara said people with views that “disavow the idea of loyalty to Canada” aren’t welcome in the congregation and so sometimes go off and form their “own little cliques.”

“There is a trend in some radical groups that are non-violent to disavow the idea of loyalty,” he said. “These people generally find themselves isolated because it is not something that resonates with the rest of the congregation.”

- with files from Reuters

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DEATH IN THE DESERT

Jan. 16

Al-Qaida-linked militants seize a sprawling natural gas plant in the desert near the town of In Amenas, Algeria. Some hostages are strapped with explosive-laden vests and the militants plant explosives throughout the complex.

Jan. 17

Algerian special forces start an operation to dislodge the militants that lasts for three days.

Jan. 19

37 hostages and 29 Islamist militants are dead after Algerian forces storm the plant. The dead hostages include Japanese, Filipinos, Britons and Americans.

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal announces two Canadians are among those who took hostages. Others were from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. Ottawa dispatches a team of investigators to check the claims.

Jan. 22

Foreign Affairs officials in Ottawa summon the Algerian ambassador to their headquarters to demand an official explanation of the claims implicating Canadian fighters.

March 23

RCMP confirm what the Algerian prime minister had said — two Canadian terror suspects were killed in the attack. Police refuse to release their identity, citing “operational reasons.”

Monday

The two Canadians are identified as Londoners Xristos Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej.