In an unique World Information sequence, Stewart Bell stories from Iraq and Syria on the aftermath of the battle in opposition to the so-called Islamic State. In Half 2, World interviews a Canadian ISIS member presently being held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Muhammed Ali sat on the sofa within the jail commander’s workplace, nonetheless sporting the T-shirt and sweatpants he had on 4 months in the past when he was captured by Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
4 years in the past, the Canadian was a defiant voice of the so-called Islamic State, utilizing his social media accounts to unfold beheading pictures, threats and incitement messages to an English-speaking viewers.
However now he appeared defeated.
“I’m simply bored with the whole lot,” he advised World Information, which interviewed him final weekend at a facility run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.-backed fighters who management the nation’s northeast.
WATCH: Canadian ISIS fighter captured in northern Syria speaks out
Balding and beardless, with darkish rings round his eyes and a quiet voice that appeared at odds along with his belligerent on-line persona as Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, he mentioned he wished to come back again to Canada.
He mentioned he didn’t care if he was arrested on arrival and insisted he wasn’t a risk.
“If I wished to blow issues up, I’d have blown issues up 4 years in the past,” he mentioned. “I wouldn’t have needed to come right here.”
The Mississauga resident, who left Toronto to affix ISIS in April 2014, mentioned he was trying to cross into Turkey and return to Canada when Syrian fighters from Kurdish Folks’s Protection Items, or YPG, caught him close to the border in a city referred to as Ras al-Ayn.
READ MORE: Canadian member of Islamic State caught, however RCMP battle to put prices in opposition to ISIS fighters
They introduced him to a constructing in a compound guarded by gunmen. The light signal above the steel gate mentioned it was as soon as the Syrian Division of Immigration and Passports, earlier than civil battle turned the nation right into a graveyard.
Ali’s spouse, Rida Jabbar, who’s from Vancouver, and their two kids, who had been each born underneath ISIS rule and have by no means seen Canada, had been additionally taken into custody and are being held at a detention camp not distant.
The query is what to do with them.
Kurdish authorities need Ottawa to take again Ali and at the least a dozen different Canadian ISIS fighters, girls and youngsters they’re holding. However Ali mentioned Canadian officers had not visited him, and even spoken with him on the telephone.
“You guys are the primary Canadians I met,” he mentioned.
In a two-hour interview performed by World Information and terrorism researcher Amarnath Amarasingam, Ali spoke brazenly about his function in ISIS and why he finally deserted the group.
Ali consented to be interviewed on digital camera. His captors weren’t current within the room in the course of the assembly. The SDF requested World Information to signal a kind requiring “adherence to worldwide human rights legal guidelines” and “to not pressure the detainee to reply.” Questions in regards to the location of the detention facility had been additionally off-limits.
“I actually did get sick of them,” Ali mentioned of ISIS. “I imply, there was a great deal of issues, however probably the most primary factor was they betrayed the Syrian folks and the foreigners that got here right here.”
A Toronto-based educational who research international fighters, Amarasingam mentioned Ali appeared disillusioned and appeared to have undergone a change of coronary heart as a brand new father making an attempt to boost younger kids underneath the coalition anti-ISIS marketing campaign.
READ MORE: Canada’s plan for managing the return of ISIS fighters revealed in paperwork
Whereas Ali’s responses had been in keeping with these of different disenchanted fighters, Amarasingam mentioned the regret may be feigned, and it was unclear whether or not he had deserted his dedication to jihadist violence or had merely soured on ISIS as a company.
“Simply based mostly on a two-hour interview, it’s form of troublesome to know whether or not he’s mendacity, whether or not he’s form of enjoying the remorse card simply to get again to Canada,” mentioned Amarasingam, a senior analysis fellow on the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London.
Ali had no complaints about Canada, which he mentioned grew to become his residence on the age of seven or eight when his mother and father immigrated from Pakistan. He grew up in Mississauga enjoying basketball and attending a Catholic highschool earlier than beginning at Ryerson College in 2008.
Possibly as a result of he “wasn’t mature sufficient,” he felt misplaced, depressed and “stopped going to courses, stopped exhibiting up for exams,” he mentioned. A Toronto-based Muslim convert named André Poulin whom he befriended had a powerful affect on his destiny however didn’t recruit him, he mentioned.
After Poulin died preventing in Syria in 2013, Ali labored in northern Alberta to boost cash for a aircraft ticket to Turkey. When he confided that he wished to combat overseas, his father took him to an imam to speak him out of it, however Ali wasn’t swayed. “To me it appeared like the suitable factor to do at the moment,” he mentioned.
“At the moment the regime was mainly going all out on the civilians, so I made a decision to come back right here and assist the rebels of their combat in opposition to the regime and in opposition to Assad,” he mentioned. “At the moment it was quite simple as a result of lots of the foreigners had been coming in for that motive. A number of them had been English-speaking.
“So I made a decision, why not?”
He left Toronto’s Pearson airport for Istanbul in April 2014 and, with the assistance of a Swedish extremist he met on-line, crossed into Syria northeast of Azaz. ISIS requested him questions and despatched him to primary coaching, which lasted 21 days.
When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the top of the Islamic State in June 2014, Ali mentioned he was supportive, believing it will unify the competing anti-Assad armed factions, though it didn’t.
At first, he mentioned, he was despatched to work for the ISIS oil and fuel ministry, however there was little for him to do, so he spent a lot of his time on-line and shortly grew to become a outstanding social media propagandist, whilst his numerous accounts had been suspended.
WATCH: What occurs when an ISIS member returns to Canada? The story of 1 Toronto-area man
His on-line posts had been taunting, at occasions ugly. He posted pictures of ISIS executions and talked about enjoying soccer with severed heads. As ISIS was throwing homosexuals of rooftops, he mentioned they need to be killed. Following the October 2014 terror assaults in Quebec and Ontario, he gloated and referred to as for extra.
“I’ve discovered lots of issues,” he mentioned when reminded of these posts. “2014 was a very long time in the past, completely different time. Killing of civilians isn’t actually justified Islamically. I haven’t seen any justification but. It doesn’t actually assist anybody as a result of … it’s not likely a good suggestion.”
He met his spouse at a home the place girls waited to be married off to ISIS fighters. She was an Afghan-Canadian who had come to Syria 4 months after him. Their courtship was pragmatic. “We had a gathering for about 30-40 minutes,” he mentioned. And that was it. “I married her.”
Whereas he mentioned he frolicked largely with Australians, he often encountered different Canadians, like Farah Shirdon of Calgary, whom he mentioned died in an airstrike in Raqqah in 2017. One other Canadian led a battalion of English-speaking fighters, he mentioned, and a 3rd, who glided by Abu Rudwan, narrated the ISIS execution video Flames of Warfare.
READ MORE: Coalition forces in Syria, Iraq focused three Canadians, secret doc says
However he downplayed the numbers of Canadians in ISIS, saying estimates of 80 to 100 had been too excessive.
“I imply there’s like 5 Canadian guys. Two killed in Raqqah, me,” he mentioned. “I heard there’s one other one in a special jail. And perhaps one or two nonetheless in ISIS. Not lots of Canadians right here.”
From the oil ministry, he joined a sniper and reconnaissance unit at a camp in Al-Tabqah. “And just about been doing that for the final 4 years,” he mentioned. He did “largely recon, some sniping and a few coaching,” he mentioned.
“More often than not I used to be doing recon, even within the sniping items, I used to be a spotter.” Requested if he had killed, he mentioned ISIS didn’t attempt to verify whether or not they had hit their targets.
In the course of the siege of the ISIS capital Raqqah that started in 2016, he mentioned he moved to Al Mayadin, the place the fear group’s management was relocated. However by late that yr, he was dropping religion in ISIS, he mentioned.
He felt ISIS had shifted its focus from toppling the Assad regime to preventing different armed factions. And he was upset in regards to the remedy of international fighters he mentioned had been both used as cannon fodder or tortured and killed on the premise that they had been spies.
“They painting themselves within the media as they’re an Islamic state,” he mentioned. “However there are lots of issues right here that aren’t in Islam. Like it’s lots of lies, issues like that.”
He additionally started to battle with ISIS terrorist assaults, he mentioned. He denied he was concerned within the ISIS department that skilled foreigners to enter Western international locations and perform assaults.
“No, no,” he mentioned. “However there have been folks skilled they usually had been despatched again to Europe. And also you’ve in all probability seen what occurred in France and issues like that. However I by no means met anybody who was skilled in that.”
Prepared to surrender ISIS, he mentioned, he spoke to his spouse’s father in Dubai, who contacted the Canadian authorities. “They mentioned if you wish to come residence the most effective factor is to go to Turkey, as a result of from there they might help us get again.”
The household left Ash Sha’fah, close to the Iraqi border, with Ali hidden in a secret compartment in a transport truck. They modified to a automobile after which to a special automobile, however as a Pakistani-Canada, he would have stood out and the Kurdish forces pulled him apart.
“They took me to a home, they beat me up a bit bit. As soon as they came upon I used to be Canadian and my spouse was Canadian they took me to jail and took her to camp. Then they transferred me from that jail to this one and I’ve been right here since.”
For the primary three months, he was in solitary, the place the lights had been all the time on, he mentioned. He’s now within the common inhabitants and shares a cell with 4 Europeans, 5 Iraqis and 4 Syrians.
The Kurds, Individuals and British have interrogated him, he mentioned. They requested him “the whole lot — about myself, about ISIS, about different folks, issues like that.” He mentioned he had not been mistreated or tortured.
READ MORE: ISIS chief al-Baghdadi seems to name for assaults on Canada in new audio recording
The Canadian authorities might not be in a rush to repatriate ISIS members like Ali following the uproar within the Home of Commons final yr over a Toronto-area man who mentioned he had served in ISIS however had not been arrested.
With a federal election subsequent yr, the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could concern the optics of repatriating ISIS members when it stays unsure the RCMP would be capable to collect sufficient proof to arrest them.
Ali sounded resigned to being arrested upon arrival in Canada. “I imply, clearly, they’ve received issues that they need to cost me for,” he mentioned. “It’s what it’s. I’ve to return residence. I can’t spend any extra time right here, man. 4 years is sufficient.”
Was all of it a mistake?
“Properly, for those who say it’s an enormous mistake, you then’re going to spend the remainder of your life banging your head on the wall. I imply, I don’t know man, the one factor I care about now could be my spouse and my youngsters,” he mentioned. “I don’t even care about the rest. I don’t care about this nation or these folks right here.”
In one in every of his many social media posts after becoming a member of ISIS, Ali mentioned he wasn’t Canadian anymore. He mentioned his passport expired in 2014 and was taken from him. However all through the interview, he repeated that every one he wished was to go residence.
“I’ve discovered my lesson,” he mentioned. “4 years, I imply, it’s just about taken the whole lot out of me. Don’t know, man. I’m not going residence to do something silly or something like that. I used to be by no means in hassle rising up, by no means received in hassle and I’m not trying to get in hassle as soon as I’m going again.”
“I simply need to return and stay my life, that’s it.”
© 2018 World Information, a division of Corus Leisure Inc.