What can we learn from the leaked Islamic State documents?
The release of a trove of purported Islamic State recruitment documents has put the spotlight on six Canadians who left home to fight with the terror group in Syria and Iraq.
The names of the six Canadian fighters — four of them reportedly from Edmonton and all members of the same family — were among more than 1,700 foreigners from 40 countries identified as having signed up to join the ranks of the so-called Islamic State, prior to sometime in 2014.
The documents, essentially job applications to be jihadists, were reportedly provided to international media outlets by an Islamic State defector.
“Many of these organizations do keep fairly extensive records of who’s fighting [among] them,” explained Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher at the University of Waterloo who has examined the issue of foreign fighters and communicated with several individuals who have left home to join IS.
He believes the documents are authentic and offer some insight into how the foreign fighters got hooked up with the terror organization, such as who vouched for them and helped smuggle them into IS territory.
But he explains the information would likely be more useful for police and intelligence officials in Turkey, which has served as a transit hub for would-be foreign fighters and IS sympathizers entering Syria and Iraq, than to Canadian authorities trying to keep track of Canadian passport holders who have taken up arms in the Middle East since 2014.
These documents list six individuals, but the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) estimates around 180 Canadian passport-holders have travelled overseas to take part in extremist activities — about 100 of them having travelled to Syria, Iraq or Turkey.
In an interview with Global News Friday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale applauded the work of Canadian intelligence officials, RCMP and local authorities for their efforts to stop others from leaving the country to fight with groups like IS.
He pointed to the Thursday arrest of a 28-year-old Ismael Habib, from Gatineau, Que. Habib was charged Friday with attempting to leave Canada to participate in the activities of a terrorist group.
Amarnasingam says the government has gotten a lot better at keeping track of what authorities call “high-risk travellers” and preventing them from leaving the country.
“I think in 2012 and 13, the Canadian authorities were kind of caught off-guard completely by this phenomenon,” he says, adding Turkish authorities have also made it more difficult for foreign recruits to flow into IS territory.
University of Calgary professor Michael Zekulin said the leaked documents are indicative of a “growing disillusionment of individuals who are in [IS]-controlled territory.”
CSIS estimates that out of the more than 180 “terrorist travellers” from Canada, around 60 have returned to the country at some point.
“We’re seeing stories of lots of people who are defecting or leaving. And, in this case, this individual had the ability to access information and decided to take some of with them,” Zekulin said.
He said the volume of information the defector handed over was quite “impressive” and offers a look what roles foreign fighters may have been assigned to in the IS ranks.
But he doesn’t think there’s going to be much more that we can glean from the details in the document as far as the six identified Canadians are concerned.
“It has to be taken with a grain of salt,” he said.
“One of the things we attempted to do in the early days of this conflict was stem the flow of foreign fighters… A [recruitment] system they were using two years ago may have been abandoned and they may have implemented new ones.”
Who are the six Canadian fighters named in the documents?
One of the six is a well known extremist from Calgary — Somali-Canadian Farah Shirdon, who was seen tearing up his Canadian passport and tossing it into a fire in a 2014 IS propaganda video.
Shirdon left Alberta to fight with the so-called Islamic State, then referred to as ISIS or ISIL, on March 14, 2014.
He was believed to have been killed not long after the propaganda video was released.
But, he turned up months later in a September 2014 interview with VICE News.
The RCMP charged Shirdon, in absentia, in September with six offences including leaving Canada to participate in the activity of a terrorist group and uttering threats —a charge related to his interview with VICE.
The four fighters from Edmonton, according to CBC News, include Omar Abdirahman Aden, brothers Hamza and Hersey Kariye and Mahad Hersi, a cousin. All four entered Islamic State-held territory in Syria on Nov. 12, 2013, according to documents obtained by the CBC through the website Zaman Al-Wasl. All four were killed while fighting for the Islamic State in Syria.
The last of the six Canadians, according to CBC, was self-identified as Hussain Baroot, who also went by the pseudonym Abu Othman Al-Lubani. It’s not clear whether Baroot remains overseas or if he returned to Canada at some point.
With files from Sara Kraus
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