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Exclusive: Canadian member of Islamic State caught, but it’s unclear what charges he might face

Global News logo Global News 2018-10-08 Stewart Bell
a man looking at the camera: Muhammad Ali, 28, who went by Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, was taken into custody four months ago in Ras al-Ayn, on the Turkish border. © Global News Muhammad Ali, 28, who went by Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, was taken into custody four months ago in Ras al-Ayn, on the Turkish border.

A high-profile Canadian member of the so-called Islamic State has been caught while attempting to return to Canada, Global News has confirmed.

Muhammad Ali, 28, who left Toronto in 2014 to join ISIS, was captured by Kurdish forces as he tried to flee from Syria to Turkey.

He is being held at a makeshift prison by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, the military alliance that controls northeast Syria.

The former Ryerson University student, who went by Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, was taken into custody four months ago in Ras al-Ayn, on the Turkish border.

READ MORE: Canada’s plan for managing the return of ISIS fighters revealed in documents

At the time, he was with his Canadian wife, former Vancouver resident Rida Jabbar, and their two children, both born in Syria.

His family is being detained at a camp not far from the prison where Kurdish, American and British officials have been interrogating Ali.

His capture is significant because, aside from serving as a sniper, Ali used social media to encourage others to join ISIS and conduct terrorist attacks.

But it has placed the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a difficult position. Kurdish officials want to hand Ali and a dozen other Canadians over to Ottawa.

However, with the RCMP struggling to bring charges against Canadians who have taken part in overseas terror groups, there is no guarantee Ali would face arrest upon his return.

READ MORE: What happens when an ISIS member returns to Canada? The story of one Toronto-area man

Kurdish authorities said they were holding almost 900 foreign ISIS fighters, as well as 500 wives and more than 1,000 children, and want governments to take back those that are their citizens.

“So far we have three ISIS fighters, two women and five children. In total there are 10 Canadian citizens,” said Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Self-Administration of North Syria. “The fighters are in prisons and the women and children are in the camps.”

Those numbers do not include Ali’s family.

Kurdish officials met months ago with Canadian diplomats in northern Iraq, Omar told Global News in an interview in Qamlishi, a city in northern Syria.

“There was a dialogue with the Canadian government via the Canadian consulate in Beirut. And we had a meeting in Sulaymaniyah and there was some good steps and we filled application forms and then suddenly the Canadian government stopped this process and we don’t know why.”

Canada’s foreign affairs department would not say how many Canadians were in SDF custody. “Global Affairs Canada is aware that Canadian citizens are being detained in Syria,” a spokeswoman said.

The government “is engaged in these cases and is providing assistance, to the extent possible,” spokesperson Amy Mills said. “Given the unpredictable security situation, the government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance in all parts of Syria is severely limited.”

The Integrated National Security Enforcement Team has been investigating Ali but he has not been charged. Canadian officials have not spoken to him since he was apprehended.

According to ISIS documents smuggled out of the region, Ali joined the terror group on April 24, 2014. His ISIS membership form indicated he asked to serve as a fighter.

Once he had joined, he made no secret about it, posting on social media accounts that he was a “soldier” in ISIS. “Everyone will die eventually. It’s inevitable,” he wrote. “Best to go out fighting for what you believe in.”

His Ask.FM account encouraged others to join ISIS, gave advice on how to do it and told recruits to contact him once they arrived in Turkey.

One online message suggested he had helped a group of Canadians cross into Syria to join ISIS. The friends, all from the Toronto area, are believed to have died.

“Analysts still trying to figure out what radicalizes us,” a post on his Twitter account read. “Read the Quran … and look at the dire situation in Muslim Lands.”

READ MORE: ISIS leader al-Baghdadi appears to call for attacks on Canada in new audio recording

He spoke about playing soccer with severed heads, wrote that homosexuals “should be killed” and posted ISIS’s incitement lines, such as: “Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian of military.”

Following the deadly October 2014 terror attacks that killed Canadian soldiers in Quebec and Ottawa, he wrote, “First Ottawa, then Quebec. Strike them, just as they strike your brothers and sisters.”

“If you are unable to make hijra [travel abroad], know that you have permission to strike them in their lands. Kill a kaffir [non-believer] and secure you [sic] place in Jannah [heaven],” another post read.

He had been absent from social media in recent years, feeding speculation he was dead. But he had only gone offline while continuing his involvement with ISIS.

University of Ottawa Professor Craig Forcese said some of his online posts could be considered participation in a terrorist group, counselling a criminal offence, hate speech and uttering threats.

“Everything turns on the quality of this information,” he said.

READ MORE: ISIS servers seized in Canada as countries launch coordinated takedown of propaganda network

The Syrian Kurds who have pushed ISIS back and encircled its last stronghold said they lacked the capability to imprison, bring to justice and rehabilitate 2,000 foreign captives.

“This is a big burden on our shoulders and this is a big number of ISIL fighters and they pose a serious threat here so we cannot keep them here,” said Omar, the official with the Democratic Self-Administration of North Syria. He added that should the conflict flare in the region, the ISIS members might escape.

“This is a good chance for the international community because we have them in our custody. They should take on their moral responsibilities and address this issue,” he said.

“We have sacrificed a lot to be able to capture those dangerous and notorious criminals, 900 people, ISIL fighters, every country should assume their responsibilities and try to help us to address this issue and take their citizens back to their countries and try them in countries.”

The FBI recently brought a woman captured by Kurdish forces and her four children back to the U.S., and Russia and Sudan took back their nationals, Omar said. “But this is not enough, we need to find an overall solution.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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