MONTREAL — It's important to condemn both terrorism and Islamophobia in the wake of violent overnight attacks in Edmonton, the founder of a Muslim group said Sunday.
Imam Syed Soharwardy says both are forms of extremism.
"This terrorist act in Edmonton proves to us that we have to do more to educate people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, that this is not Islamic," he said Sunday.
"It's haram, completely forbidden — a criminal act."
'We cannot do it alone'
Soharwardy, the founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, spoke out in Montreal Sunday to denounce the Edmonton attack that saw a police officer stabbed and several pedestrians run down with a van.
Soharwardy says he's troubled that an Islamic State flag was found in the car used in the attack and sees it as a sign the Muslim community needs to do more to combat intolerance and extremism.
"We do have a problem," he said. "We have to recognize the problem and we have to fix it, but we cannot do it alone," he said, calling on other faith groups and government representatives to join the fight.
I am getting hate mail already coming from both Muslims and non-Muslims.
At the same time, he fears the attacks could spur an Islamic backlash that he says has already begun.
"I am getting hate mail already coming from both Muslims and non-Muslims," he said.
"The extremists who happen to be Muslims, they say, 'We have nothing to do with it,' (which is) complete denial."
"On the other hand are Islamophobes who say, 'You are 100 per cent responsible for the crimes that we don't even know who has committed them.'"
Police said Sunday the suspect, who has yet to be officially identifies, is a Somali refugee once investigated for espousing extremism.
Jibril Ibrahim, president of the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton, said he wasn't familiar with the name that some media outlets had identified as the suspect.
Ibrahim noted there are 20,000 people with Somali roots in the city.
"This is an individual, and an individual could be a member of any community," Ibrahim said.
Elected officials have preached calm and stressed the need for unity in the wake of the attack.
"To the best of our knowledge, this was a lone wolf attack," Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said Sunday at city hall. "It is vital now that we not succumb to hatred, that we not be intimidated by violence.
One researcher believes the fear of a backlash is well-founded.
Ryan Scrivens, an extremism researcher at Concordia University, says he worries right-wing extremists will see the attack as an opportunity to fan the flames of anti-Islamic sentiment in Canada.
These (attacks) force us to question how divisive are we really, and what are some of the undercurrents associated with these radical ideologies?Ryan Scrivens, extremism researcher
He says extremist groups of all ideologies use violence to deepen societal divides that disproportionately hurt marginalized groups like Muslims.
"We need to be critical about these attacks, and remind ourselves that there's always going to be a few bad apples within any particular community," says Scrivens.
"As Canadians, these (attacks) force us to question how divisive are we really, and what are some of the undercurrents associated with these radical ideologies?"
The National Council of Canadian Muslims released a statement condemning the Edmonton attacks.
"Canadian Muslims stand united with all Canadians against all forms of hate and violence," Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee said.
-- With files from Adina Bresge in Halifax