At least six young Canadian men and women from Montreal and its suburbs travelled overseas last month to join the Islamic State group, local media reported Thursday.
Some of them, including two young women, were students at Montreal CEGEP College de Maisonneuve.
They flew to Turkey on January 16 with the aim of crossing its border into Syria, the Montreal daily La Presse said.
It is unclear if they reached their final destination.
The father of one of the young men, fearing his son’s downward spiral since taking up religious and Arabic studies, seized his passport. But his son reported it lost and obtained a replacement from authorities.
The six are aged 18 to 19 and of Mideast and North African descent.
A spokeswoman for Montreal CEGEP College de Maisonneuve confirmed that three of them had attended the high school last semester, but did not know if they knew each other.
Their departure follows the alleged radicalization of a 23-year-old Alberta woman who left her family mid-2014 to join the Islamic State group in Syria.
Western governments are increasingly concerned about a rising number of foreign fighters travelling to Syria through Turkey to join extremist groups.
US intelligence officials warned earlier this month that more than 20,000 volunteers from around the world had gone to Syria to link up with extremists.
The pre-dawn explosion sent a fireball and black smoke into the air, destroying dozens of buildings and forcing the evacuation of 2,000 people.
“It’s a difficult to explain what’s happened here… a large part of the down-town has been destroyed,” said Mr Harper after touring Lac-Megantic.
He said some 30 buildings had been incinerated in the historic centre of the town, which is some 250km (155 miles) east of Montreal.
He promised a full inquiry, but said it was too early to allocate blame for the disaster.
“There’ll be investigations to ascertain what happened and to ensure it never happens again,” said Mr Harper.
Police are trying to account for dozens of missing people – popular bars near the blast site were said to have been crowded at the time.
“There are about 40 people, more or less, who are considered to be missing,” police spokesman Michel Brunet told reporters. “There could be more, there could be less.”
Police said earlier they expected the death toll to rise, but were checking whether people reported missing were simply away on holiday.
‘It’s a mess’
Two of five cars that exploded were still ablaze nearly 36 hours later, Lac-Megantic Fire Chief Denis Lauzon told reporters on Sunday morning.
Firefighters have been battling the flames with water and a fire retardant, but are staying at least 1,000 ft from the burning tankers for fear of more blasts, he added.
About 30 buildings – including some of the town’s most historic structures – were obliterated by the blast.
“We lost the bibliotheque [library] which had all the memories of people here – it’s a mess,” said Chief Lauzon.
The five bodies found are so charred they have been sent to Montreal for identification, police say.
The fires have been so intense and have burnt for so long that Quebec police warn some bodies may never be recovered.
People whose homes have been badly damaged are being sheltered at a nearby school.
The train’s 73 cars carrying pressurised containers of crude oil reportedly uncoupled from five locomotive engines parked outside the town around 01:00 (06:00 BST) on Saturday, gathering speed as they rolled down the tracks before derailing in Lac-Megantic.
Eyewitnesses said that by the time the cars reached the town they were travelling at considerable speed.
Fire Chief Denis Lauzon: “We still have a risk of explosions as we still have tankers on fire”
Bernard Demers, who runs a restaurant near the blast site, said the fireball that followed the derailment was “like an atomic bomb”, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
A one-kilometre exclusion zone was set up amid fears of more pressurised containers exploding.
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train was parked in the village of Nantes – about 7km (four miles) from Lac-Megantic – during an overnight driver shift-change, said a company spokesman.
A driver had parked the train and put the brakes of its engines on “properly” before going to a local hotel for the night, said the spokesman, Joe McGonigle.
But the fuel cars somehow became uncoupled, causing them to roll downhill into the town and derail, he added.
The train was carrying the crude oil from the Bakken Field in North Dakota. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic owns more than 800km (500 miles) of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.
A lakeside town that is home to some 6,000 people, Lac-Megantic is close to the US border with Maine and Vermont, and is 130 miles north of Maine’s capital, Augusta.