NEWS

Al-Shabaab threats cause cheerleading teams to pull out of West Edmonton Mall event

02/27/2015 09:25 EST | Updated 04/29/2015 05:59 EDT
Several cheerleading teams have pulled out of a competition at West Edmonton Mall after an online video from an al-Qaeda-linked group named the building as a possible terrorist target.

The 2015 Alberta Cheerleading Competition, which was set to host 3,500 athletes from five provinces, was to take place inside the mall on the weekend of March 7.

However, organizers say "a handful" of teams have pulled out of the event over safety concerns.

West Edmonton Mall was named on Sunday as a potential target by al-Shabaab, a jihadist group based in Somalia. In the video, a masked man called for attacks on other shopping centres in the United States, the U.K. and France.

The company that manages West Edmonton Mall says it has increased security in light of the video, and Edmonton police said Sunday there is “no imminent threat” of an attack on the centre.

That hasn’t stopped some parents from pulling their children out of the competition, according to the Alberta Cheerleading Association (ACA).

“It’s understandable that they would have concerns as parents,” said ACA executive director Denise Fisher.

“They are looking for information and reassurances that it would be safe.”

Fisher said the organization’s board considered moving the competition from the mall, where it has been hosted for several years, but she said logistical issues with moving the contest and reassurances from mall officials convinced them to stay.

Lethbridge school told of travel ban

“We're not interested in blowing it out of proportion and as long as the local authorities say it's safe, we're confident that it's safe,” Fisher said.

The superintendent of the Lethbridge School District, which decided not to send its team, told CBC News that the decision was made after consulting the district’s insurance company. They were told a four-week ban on travel to West Edmonton Mall “would be prudent.”

West Edmonton Mall declined an interview on how the threats were affecting business, although store owners in the mall have noticed little change since the video was released.

“I have noticed more presence of West Edmonton Mall security. As far as daily shoppers, it's been pretty normal and business as casual.  The flow of customers hasn't really changed for us,” said Mohammad Rasaei, who works in a tattoo parlour.

Still, the threats from al-Shabaab have caused some groups to steer clear of West Edmonton Mall, at least temporarily.

Stephanie Paetz, executive director of the nearby Glenora Childcare Centre, said they had been considering taking the children to visit wildlife exhibit in the mall. However, staff were wary of the idea.

“Whenever you are doing anything with a group of 40 children, you want the staff to be as comfortable with the situation as possible,” she said.

However, she said the daycare would likely take the trip another time, possibly at the end of March. While she’s convinced the mall is safe, she says it isn’t surprising that youth groups are being cautious.

“I was there myself yesterday,” she said.

"But you put a totally different lens on when you’re taking other people’s children."

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