A leading Muslim cleric has dismissed fears that armed groups are trying to recruit children from Ireland for fighting units abroad after a Co Meath schoolboy was killed on active duty in Syria.
Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland said 16-year-old Shamseddin Gaidan, a Libyan-born Irish citizen, was one of about 25 young Irish or Irish-based Muslims known to have joined rebel forces fighting in Arab uprisings abroad.
However, he said there was no question of an organised programme to target impressionable young people and lure them into dangerous missions overseas.
“On the contrary, you have senior members of the Muslim community discouraging people from doing it, not only in Ireland but international Muslim scholars, because basically you send them to die if you sanction it,” Dr Selim told RTÉ.
However, he said it was impossible to stop young people like Shamseddin, as they felt passionate about the injustices suffered by the Muslims abroad.
“It’s not a kind of recruitment. It’s self-motivation... The motivation is the fact that they can see double standards, that they see that there is no justice when it comes to Muslim issues.
“So, if the United Nations is not doing it, if the international community is not doing it, then they say we will do it ourselves.”
Shamseddin Gaidan was born in Libya but moved to Ireland with his family in 2001. His father, Ibrahim, runs a halal grocery shop in Navan, Co Meath and Shamseddin was a student at St Patrick’s Classical School in the town.
The teenager spent his summer holidays in Libya last year and was to return via Turkey in mid-August but did not come home. His parents later learned he had crossed from Turkey into Syria — apparently with a cousin, who it is believed was also killed — to join rebels fighting to overthrow president Bashar al Assad.
Mr Gaidan said: “We heard nothing from him until one day someone called from Syria saying Shamseddin is here and he is helping the Syrian people.”
The last Mr Gaidan heard from Shamseddin was a brief phonecall during which he pleaded with his son to come home.
“He refused, saying how could he leave when the Syrian regime was killing its own people, including children,” Mr Gaidan said.
Details of how Shamseddin died are not known and his body has not been recovered. Mourners gathered at Tallaght mosque in Dublin to offer condolences to his family and prayers were also said at St Patrick’s Classical School.
The teenager is the second person from Ireland to die after joining the rebels; Egyptian-born Hudhaifa El Sayed, 22, from Drogheda, was shot dead in northern Syria in December.
Dr Selim said young people were vulnerable.
“When they go to the battlefield like this, they are not trained, they know nothing about the geographical location of that area, they know nothing about the streets — they will be hunted easily.”
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