Toronto’s Mohammed Khalifa — a key member of the Islamic State media department — was captured in January following a gun battle with Kurdish fighters, however 9 months in jail haven’t dampened his zeal.
“I do see an obligation to proceed preventing,” he instructed International Information in an interview in northern Syria.
He simply would possibly get the possibility.
He faces no prices in Canada and a Turkish invasion has introduced chaos to the area the place he’s detained, throwing his destiny and that of 1000’s of different overseas ISIS captives into query.
Whether or not they’ll escape to rejoin ISIS, try and return residence or turn into prisoners of Turkey or the Syrian regime stays to be seen, however every of these choices is problematic.
Including to the sudden unpredictability surrounding ISIS detainees is that, ought to any of the Canadians discover their method again to Canada, they don’t but face any prices.
Though the federal authorities has referred to as prosecuting Canadians concerned in terrorism “our high precedence,” it has but to convey any ISIS suspects caught in Syria to justice.
The dangers of leaving Canadian ISIS members like Khalifa for the Kurdish forces to cope with grew to become extra clear final week, when Turkey launched its offensive into northern Syria.
The assault led to renewed ISIS operations, escapes by a whole lot of ISIS households and an abrupt shift in alliances. Deserted by the US, the Kurds turned to Syria’s pro-Russia president, Bashar Al Assad.
Kurdish forces mentioned they might proceed to detain the ISIS suspects and both search to prosecute them at a world tribunal or ship them again to their very own international locations, however circumstances are evolving shortly.
“Issues are altering so quickly that making predictions might be a waste of time,” mentioned Prof. Amarnath Amarasingam, who not too long ago visited northern Syria.
Syrian Kurdish forces can’t guard camps the place Canadian ISIS members are held whereas preventing Turkey
With per week to go within the federal election, the Canadian authorities has mentioned little in response to the flip of occasions, however former federal authorities nationwide safety lawyer Leah West mentioned there was sufficient proof to cost Khalifa with a number of terrorism offences in Canada.
Along with International Information and Amarasingam, West interviewed Khalifa at a base of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces per week earlier than the Turkish invasion.
In the course of the hour-long interview, Khalifa admitted to leaving Canada with the intention of preventing in Syria and narrating ISIS propaganda releases such because the mass execution video Flames of Battle.
West mentioned a number of prices have been applicable, together with taking part in terrorist exercise, facilitating terrorist exercise and counseling terrorist exercise, in addition to counseling and collaborating in battle crimes.
“His voice may be very identifiable. And he acknowledges that that’s his voice. It wouldn’t be that onerous to match the 2 up,” mentioned West, who teaches on the Norman Paterson College of Worldwide Affairs.
“So to me, that is fairly sturdy proof that he … dedicated these crimes. And that kind of proof could possibly be used and could be admissible in a Canadian courtroom,” she mentioned.
“The RCMP has this info they usually haven’t but charged him.”Advertisement
For his half, Khalifa acknowledged he had endorsed violence.
“I imply, it’s fairly apparent,” he mentioned.
“So far as I keep in mind, in the event you did the identical kind of factor in America, the place you’re translating any jihadi materials, you’d be charged with incitement. So I assume it’s the identical in Canada,” he mentioned.
Along with Khalifa, Kurdish forces have been holding Mohammad Ali, a self-admitted ISIS sniper from Toronto who overtly referred to as for assaults in Canada on social media. Additionally of their custody have been three different males who recognized as Canadians, a minimum of eleven ladies and two dozen youngsters.
Requested why none had been charged, the RCMP mentioned terrorism investigations have been “advanced and resource-intensive.”
“Usually, they require proof of a person’s exercise in overseas battle zones, or depend on info offered by companions that we aren’t approved to reveal in courtroom,” mentioned RCMP Sgt. Caroline Duval.
Canadian authorities not keen to take again its residents ‘not respectful’: Syrian official
Radicalized by Al Qaeda lectures
In his account to International Information, Khalifa mentioned he was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to Italy together with his household earlier than they settled in downtown Toronto when he was 5.
He had no troubles in school, and his relationship together with his dad and mom was good, he mentioned. They divorced when he was in elementary faculty and he lived together with his mom however nonetheless noticed his father.
Faith didn’t curiosity him till he left Central Tech Excessive College and commenced learning at a neighborhood mosque, he mentioned. “I attended some classes and it simply had an impression on me, so I simply began taking religion extra significantly.”
In about 2008, he started following conservative Islamic on-line boards, and through the Arab Spring uprisings, he started to observe an Al Qaeda cleric who had been killed in a U.S drone strike in Yemen.
“On the time, I used to be mainly listening to lectures by Anwar Al Awlaki and following what was taking place in Syria.”Advertisement
“That’s mainly after I made the choice, across the summer season,” he mentioned.
He instructed his mom he was shifting to Egypt. He disclosed his true intentions to nobody. “I figured that in the event that they knew that I used to be going to go and combat in Syria they’d attempt to cease me.”
From Toronto, he flew to Cairo and Istanbul and continued to the southern Turkish area of Hatay. He took a taxi to the border and gave a smuggler a number of hundred U.S. to get him into Syria on a bus.
His plans weren’t thought out intimately. He didn’t know which armed Islamist group he wished to hitch till he received to the border and selected Muhajireen al Ansar as a result of its members spoke English.
He was despatched for coaching however claimed he ended up simply ready at a home and exercising within the yard. When the Muhajireen merged with ISIS that fall, he joined the Islamic State and was recruited into the media wing in April 2014.
“They noticed in him one thing — his voice, his language skill — and introduced him into the media equipment in a really massive method,” Amarasingam mentioned.
“And he caught with that media equipment to the very finish.”
Initially, Khalifa mentioned, three foreigners ran the ISIS media workplace in Raqqa: himself, an American and a German. They put out “mainly each day information” primarily based on experiences from ISIS fighters on the battlefield.
It wasn’t what he had meant but it surely was what ISIS wanted and he noticed it as an obligation, which he mentioned he carried out “for the sake of my religion.” He mentioned he didn’t take pleasure in it “100 per cent” however determined, “if that is the place they want me then high-quality.”
Together with his apparent Canadian accent, Khalifa grew to become a matter of hypothesis upon the discharge in September 2014 of Flames of Battle, an hour-long video that confirmed captured Syrian troopers digging their very own graves after which being executed by gunfire.
That was adopted by audio statements during which he claimed the Paris assault for ISIS, referring to the mass homicide of 131 civilians as a “blessed onslaught” and threatening coalition international locations with extra violence.
Khalifa expressed no regret for his position in creating propaganda selling terrorist assaults, explaining that the killings raised the problem of “collateral harm,” which he mentioned was “not a difficulty that’s particular to the West.”
He mentioned ISIS adhered to a set of “guidelines,” one being that girls and youngsters weren’t focused. Reminded that ISIS assaults had all focused random civilians, together with ladies and youngsters, he mentioned males of preventing age weren’t thought of civilians, whereas ladies and youngsters have been “collateral harm.”
When terrorists attacked in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and Ottawa in October 2014, killing two Canadian Forces members, Khalifa was detached, he mentioned. “It’s not like I nonetheless noticed myself as a Canadian.”
He married a lady he met in Raqqa by ISIS they usually had three youngsters, however he mentioned that they had not attended ISIS faculties as a result of they have been too younger. His spouse would keep at residence with the children and go to different ladies in Raqqa.
He encountered few different Canadians in ISIS, he claimed. He mentioned he met Collin and Gregory Gordon, brothers from Calgary, and confirmed they have been useless. Likewise, he mentioned Calgary’s Farah Shirdon and Ahmad Waseem of Windsor had additionally died.
As ISIS started to lose Raqqa to the Kurdish forces, Khalifa retreated with the senior ranks of the fear group, which Amarasingam mentioned was a sign of the significance ISIS leaders connected to their propaganda wing.
“As Raqqa fell, as Mayadin fell they usually moved south to Deir Ezzor, the management made it clear that the English-language media arm, and the media arm on the whole, was fairly vital for the survival of the group.”
Khalifa mentioned ISIS was adamant that he ought to proceed his work.
“In case you’re always releasing information about your self, you’re nonetheless on the market. In case you don’t have any information, no person is aware of you exist. So it was seen as a precedence for that purpose.”
However he was ultimately trapped with ISIS near the Iraq border and captured following a gunfight with Kurdish forces.
The previous Toronto tech assist employee now shares a jail room with 19 others.
Neither the RCMP nor every other Canadian officers have contacted him, he mentioned. The one overseas company he has spoken to is the FBI, which he mentioned had interviewed him.
“It was simply mainly details about how I got here, the place I used to be inside Islamic State territory, what I did, what my position was, my job, that kind of factor,” he mentioned, talking on situation he was not videotaped.
His East African spouse and their youngsters have been at a camp for ISIS households. He mentioned he didn’t know what got here subsequent.
“The knowledge we get is much less and fewer and fewer, and we’re increasingly more and extra at the hours of darkness.”Advertisement
“And so there’s even much less purpose to emphasize over it,” Khalifa mentioned. “It’s form of similar to, no matter occurs, occurs.”
He denied allegations he was the executioner seen within the Flames of Battle video, however wouldn’t say who it was besides that executions have been carried out by battalions such because the Anwar Al Awlaki Brigade — which was allegedly led by one other Canadian, Abu Bakr Kanadi.
Requested about being introduced again to Canada and placed on trial, he mentioned that will be “a useless finish for me.” As a result of his spouse shouldn’t be Canadian, she wouldn’t be allowed into Canada. And he could be on a no-fly record and unable to go away Canada.
“OK then, how am I presupposed to get again to my household, proper? In order that’s mainly considered one of my primary issues.”
Whereas he mentioned he didn’t see himself as a risk, he mentioned he wouldn’t blame Canadians for seeing him as one. He mentioned he nonetheless thought of himself a member of ISIS, and identified that he had not surrendered.
However there are “sure issues it’s a must to perceive,” he mentioned. “There may be one thing that you just consider is appropriate, proper, in keeping with your religion or in keeping with no matter you determine to observe. However you your self may not wish to do it.”
“In case you ask me about martyrdom operations, yeah, I consider they’re appropriate they usually’re acceptable. Does that imply that I’d do it? Me personally, I’d shrink back from it. I’ve my causes.”
Requested if he would counsel others to conduct such assaults, he declined to reply. Reminded he had, within the video and audio propaganda he produced for ISIS, he acknowledged that.
“Proper, yeah, I did.”
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