POLITICS

Mounties ID two Canadians killed in Algeria attack, plea for public's help

04/04/2013 01:40 EDT | Updated 06/04/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The remains of two young men from London, Ont., were indeed among those found at the site of a deadly terrorist siege in Algeria in January, the RCMP confirmed Thursday as they pleaded with the public to help in their investigation.

Beyond confirming a four-day old headline, however, the unusual and hastily called news conference raised far more questions than it answered — chief among them whether the police probe is making any progress.

"We are continuing our work and gathering evidence in this case to determine the circumstances that led to Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas departing Canada," said RCMP Supt. Marc Richer.

In the face of questions about whether police had hit a dead end, Richer acknowledged that such investigations are dependent upon key details from members of the community.

"People tend to look to the police (as) having all the answers. The reality is, we need the public's help," Richer said.

"What we need to know is that benign piece of information that may be annoying someone who's wondering what to do with it. Pick up the phone and call the number on the screen. That's what we want people to do."

Following the news conference — which featured a handout titled "Radicalization: A Guide for the Perplexed" — police tweeted a toll-free number to call "if you have info about individuals leaving Canada to take part in terrorism plots."

Medlej and Katsiroubas are believed to have played key roles in the January attack on a natural gas plant, which killed at least 38 hostages and 27 other militants.

No other details about the pair or about other potential suspects are being released for fear it could end up compromising the investigation, said Richer.

Aaron Yoon, a high school friend also from London, travelled overseas with Medlej and Katsiroubas. Reports emerged Thursday saying Yoon is currently behind bars in Mauritania, although it's not clear how he got there.

A Department of Foreign Affairs official would say only that the department is "aware of a Canadian who has been detained abroad."

Richer would not say how long the RCMP investigation has been ongoing, or whether it predates the January attack, but did allow it has been underway for a "number of months."

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service reportedly began asking questions about Medlej and Katsiroubas after a family member contacted authorities in 2007 with concerns about the pair. It's unclear what became of that investigation.

Richer said all Canadians have a responsibility to ensure that "radicalization" is quickly nipped in the bud.

"Ultimately, countering radicalization to violence also depends on the public taking an active role in intervention, including assisting law enforcement by reporting suspicious and illegal activities," he said.

Small, even mundane pieces of information can help the investigation, he added.

"Who individuals might hang out with, who may or not have a good or bad influence on someone that may lead to certain behaviour, or observing these people and how they behaved and clues that people may have had either in discussions or in just in social settings with these people that may have triggered: 'Oh that's odd,'" he said.

"It may be many things, but if people around these two individuals noticed something that didn't fit over the course of time before these events that they believe might be useful, that's what we're looking for."

Richer said anyone with information is urged to call the RCMP's national security information network at 1-800-429-5805.