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.
Turkey’s prime minister bowed to protesters on Saturday by ordering the police force to vacate Istanbul’s central square and labelling the extended use of tear gas to clear the area of demonstrations as “excessive”….
But Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that the tens of thousands of demonstrators who have convulsed Istanbul and other major Turkish cities represented only a minority of the country and vowed not to be deflected from carrying out his broader plans.
The decision to withdraw came after he delivered a defiant speech earlier in the day, in which he promised that the police would remain in Taksim square. The police had used tear gas so extensively that plumes could be seen over central Istanbul and hundreds of gas canisters littered the streets, some even being found in the British Consulate.
Although the disturbance began over government plans to demolish a park adjoining Taksim square, the scope of the police crackdown against peaceful demonstrators on Friday swiftly transformed the event into a broader protest against the Turkish government and Mr Erdogan’s alleged authoritarian tendencies.
On Saturday, as the country’s main opposition party, the CHP, led a continuous stream of protesters to Taksim, the government announced that the police had been ordered to leave the area as of 4pm. The use of teargas continued for some time, however, as protesters threw stones at allegedly pro-government media groups and a fire blazed nearby, by early evening the retreat was complete and the square – and Gezi Park beside it – were full of protesters.
“Great day for the future of Turkey,” tweeted Cengiz Candar, a Turkish columnist. “The people of Istanbul won a decisive victory.”
The pullout followed not only more than 24 hours of protest that had lasted throughout the night and inflamed much of Istanbul, particularly secular middle class areas. It also came after warnings from the US and UK against the indiscriminate use of tear gas and the repression of fundamental rights of expression and assembly.
While Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, called for restraint, other figures in Mr Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party – including the prime minister himself – indicated they had little time for the protesters’ complaints.
“Don’t compete with us,” Mr Erdogan warned the protesters in his initial speech on Saturday. “If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million .”
Ibrahim Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara, where, according to some reports, tear gas was still being used against demonstrators, tweeted to the protesters, who he described as bandits: “I swear to God that we could drown you in a spoonful of water but pray to God that we believe in democracy.”
Protesters complained not only of limited coverage in Turkey’s traditional media but also of problems in accessing social media such as Facebook and Twitter – problems Turkey’s regulator attributed to congestion rather than censorship.
Mr Erdogan said he was ordering an investigation into the excessive use of tear gas and signalled flexibility on plans to install a new shopping mall on the site of Gezi park, the trigger for the protests
But he denounced some of the protesters as terrorists and the demonstrations themselves as a provocation.
“The parliamentary system fully functions in Turkey, every method other than elections is anti-democratic,” he said. “Just as the majority cannot put pressure on the minority, the minority also cannot impose its will on the majority.
The most common chant among the protesters was for the resignation of the Islamist-rooted Mr Erdogan, who is the champion of the wholesale transformation of much of Istanbul and whose party has just pushed through new alcohol restrictions.
Some of Mr Erdogan’s ministers have called for greater dialogue with the protesters, but Mr Erdogan said it was hard to find interlocutors among them.
Don’t compete with us. If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million
– Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Bulent Arinc, a deputy prime minister, said that an Istanbul court was right late on Friday to issuing a ruling to halt the building project in Gezi Park that sparked off the dispute, Mr Erdogan was insistent that the construction project should proceed, even if its final purpose was yet to be determined.
“We are only trying to make our people benefit. Do we still want to live in a Turkey where per capita income is $3,500 or in a Turkey where per capita is $20,000?” he asked, adding that his government’s green credentials had been neglected. “We are talking about urban transformation so that people can live as befits humans.”
Mr Erdogan also blamed the protests on the failings of the country’s weak opposition parties, which have repeatedly failed to beat him at elections where he has steadily increased his share of the popular vote and some of whose adherents have expressed their preference for military coups.
“The opposition has to be powerful and persistent too . . . if it cannot other circles will take its place,” he said.