These immigrant boys like boxing, dont they?
In the video he shot inside his hut in the mountains of Dagestan last winter, William Plotnikov narrated as he panned from the black flag of jihad to three bearded rebels and their assault rifles.
Then he turned the camera on himself.
“I ask Allah that the next season he’ll give us the opportunity to kill as many kafirs [non-believers] as we can, just to shred them to pieces,” William said. “Allah is almighty.”
Watching the clip on the computer in his apartment north of Toronto last week, Vitaly Plotnikov looked both heartbroken and perplexed. It was hard for him to accept that this was his son.
“It’s just like a different person to me,” he said.
Russian security forces announced last month that they had killed William, a 23-year-old Canadian, during a gun battle in Dagestan. Since then, the Canadian government has been trying to verify the Russians’ account.
But in an interview with the National Post, Mr. Plotnikov confirmed William’s death and spoke for the first time about his son’s rapid transformation from Toronto teenager and champion boxer to Muslim convert and jihadist fighter.
What seemed to amaze Mr. Plotnikov most was how fast it all happened. His son only became interested in Islam in 2009, he said. Within a year, he had left Canada and by July he was dead. He had gone from convert to martyr in less than three years.
He is not the first radicalized Canadian to die under such circumstances, but he is believed to be the first Canadian convert to die fighting in the name of jihad— all the others having been born into their faith. His father said William became so radicalized he did not even consider the other Muslims he met to be true Muslims. He claimed that Canada and the U.S. were a source of evil for Muslims.
“How can the mind of a person be changed in such a short period of time?” Mr. Plotnikov asked inside the York Region apartment where he keeps William’s boxing medals in a copper trophy on a shelf.
Before moving to Canada, the family lived in Western Siberia, where Mr. Plotnikov worked for an oil company. An athlete himself, he introduced his son to boxing at age nine, and William went on to twice win the Russian youth championships.
After losing his oil company job, Mr. Plotnikov found work at a bank but he wanted more than Russia had to offer. He and his wife also wanted to make sure William got a good education, and they were concerned about the gangs that attracted some former Russian athletes, so they decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of emigrating to the West.
Mr. Plotnikov immediately felt at home in Toronto. Soon after arriving, he got a job stocking shelves at a Highland Farms supermarket on Dufferin Street. “I came as though I was born here,” he said, speaking through a Russian interpreter.
The move was more difficult for William. He was 15 and had left his friends. He could not understand why the boys at his new high school wore baggy pants and piercings, and he was turned off by the heavy drinking of the Russian expats he met.
Boris Gitman saw athletic potential in the lanky teen who turned up at his boxing club in Thornhill. “I was impressed. His coach in Russia did a good job,” said Mr. Gitman, who coaches at the European Boxing School.
Tall and skinny, William needed to work on his strength and endurance. “He was not physically strong but he was very, very talented.… Very smart,” Mr. Gitman added. “In boxing, it’s very important to be smart. He understood about boxing a lot and I just knew he needed a couple of years. From my experience I thought he would be a good Olympian.