VANCOUVER—More than 100 Canadian-Arab Christians are listed on an Al Qaeda affiliated website, apparently targeted because of their alleged role in attempting to convert Muslims.
Some of those named say concerned Canadian intelligence officials have contacted them.
The Shumukh-al-Islam website, often considered to be Al Qaeda’s mouthpiece, listed pictures, addresses and cellphone numbers of Coptic Christians, predominantly Egyptian-Canadians, who have been vocal about their opposition to Islam.
In a forum on the website, one member named Son of a Sharp Sword, says “We are going to return back to Islam and all of the Mujahedeen (holy warriors) will cut off their heads.”
Three pages of the fundamentalist, Arabic-language website titled “Complete information on Coptics” sets to “identify and name all of the Coptics throughout the world who hope to defame Islam,” The website calls the Coptic Christians living abroad “dogs in diaspora,” a derogatory reference in Arabic.
Among those named on the Shumukh-al-Islam website is Samuel Tawadrous, a Coptic Egyptian living in Quebec.
“This is a direct threat against our lives,” Tawadrous said in an interview.
“They are trying to inform each other in hopes that someone can carry out this threat. They could be in Egypt and they could be here. Our names and our pictures are listed.”
Tawadrous’s picture and cellphone number were listed on the site.
One of the prominent figures listed on the website is Salim Naguib, who helped establish a Coptic organization in Canada. Naguib is described on the website as opposing Islamic Shariah and converting Muslims to Christianity. His picture, career background and cellphone number are listed on the website.
But he said in an interview he won’t be frightened.
“I only fear God,” said Naguib when reached by phone. “These websites mean nothing any more.”
Coptic Christians are predominantly a part of the Orthodox Church. Coptics are synonymous with Egypt and make up the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Sherif Mansour said he found out he was named on the website when intelligence officials called him.
“They asked me, ‘are you afraid?’ I said ‘Should I be?'” said Mansour, who has run a business in Quebec for the past 22 years since emigrating from Egypt.
Mansour laughed at the threat, but said he recognizes the seriousness of the matter.
“These issues can’t be taken lightly anymore…If they (Muslim fanatics) had the guts to fly a couple of planes into buildings and killing thousands of people, what would be the big deal with just one person? Nothing. Am I afraid of it? No, not really,” said Mansour who is an active member of the Coptic church in Canada.
Mansour believes he is being targeted because of comments he made in an interview on CTV news where he was discussing the media’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war.
Mansour said the fact that his picture, cellphone number and comments are displayed on the Shumukh-al-Islam website is an indication that fanatics are keeping a close eye on what happens in Canada.
Shumukh-al-Islam lists more than 200 Arab Christians in Egypt, Europe and North America. More than 100 of them are listed as being in Canada.
According to two of the Coptic men listed on the website, Canadian officials from the RCMP and CSIS met with representatives from the Canadian Coptic Organization in October.
The two men, who asked not to be identified because they were asked not to discuss these details with the media, said the meeting was regarding security issues.
“They (CSIS and the RCMP) are concerned about what is happening,” one of the men said.
“We have nothing to worry about. It’s the Coptics in Egypt, whose names and numbers are listed, that have to fear,” the other said.
A spokesman for CSIS was not immediately available for comment.
The struggle between the Coptic Christians and the Egyptian government has intensified in recent years over what they say are efforts by the government to curtail their religious freedoms.
While the existence of such websites is often criticized even by free speech activists, one security expert said they are a treasure trove of intelligence.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said law enforcement officials are permanently monitoring radical websites like Shumukh Al Islam.
“They are watching 24/7 what is added, who is speaking to who, blogs and other forums,” he said.
Intelligence agencies around the world are able to extract information on who is visiting such sites.
“In the world of intelligence there are various ways to conduct your business and stopping these (websites) is not always the right thing to do,” Juneau-Katsuya said.
He said there isn’t much concern that such websites turn moderate Muslims into radicals — the ones that visit are already radicals and use such websites only for communication.
For an organization that once opposed computers and technology, Al Qaeda has now converted to embracing the Internet wholeheartedly, Juneau-Katsuya said.
“The vast majority of people in the world don’t go to these websites but the extremists do,” Juneau-Katsuya said.
The problem is, he said, if threats turn to action.
“Potentially…they take matters into their own hands.”