The U.S. military says a high-profile Canadian in the so-called Islamic State was killed in a coalition airstrike in Iraq more than two years ago, marking the first official report of his death.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq, told Global News that Farah Mohamed Shirdon was killed in the city of Mosul on July 13, 2015.
Shirdon, a Somali-Canadian who left Calgary in 2014 to join ISIS, is wanted by the RCMP on six terrorism charges that accused him of being an ISIS combatant, recruiter, fundraiser and propagandist.
“Farah Mohamed Shirdon, an external operations facilitator and recruiter, was killed by a coalition airstrike in Mosul on July 13, 2015,” a CENTCOM spokesperson said in an email Wednesday. “We have nothing further to add at this time.”
WATCH: Canadian terrorism researcher Amarnath Amarasingam comments on death Canadian foreign fighter
The airstrike was one of 20 that took place in Iraq on that day, the U.S. military said. The targets struck near Mosul included an ISIS tactical unit, mortar position and vehicle, said a military news release issued at the time. The Canadian Department of National Defence website shows no airstrikes were carried out by Canadian forces that day.
But as recently as April, the U.S. State Department placed Shirdon on its list of designated terrorists and Canadian terrorism researcher Prof. Amarnath Amarasingam raised doubts about the military’s claim.
“The date seems pretty questionable to me,” said Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
He said people who knew Shirdon personally had exchanged messages with him as recently as June 2016. “And they spoke about fairly personal things, so it’s unlikely that it was an imposter.”
“It makes sense that he would have been targeted in mid-2015, because that is around the time he was putting out the most dangerous and incendiary posts on social media, attempting to encourage youth in Canada to launch attacks. But, the date of death seems remarkably early.”
Global News reached out to the U.S. State Department for comment but did not receive a response.
Who is Farah Mohamed Shirdon?
It’s not the first report of his death in Iraq. Social media posts in August 2014 said Shirdon had been killed, but he resurfaced the following month, saying he had been injured when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb.
But this is the first time the anti-ISIS military coalition, which includes Canada, has said he was dead. The statement came after Global News sent the U.S. military a list of high-profile Canadian foreign fighters and asked if any had been targeted or killed by the coalition.
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A former Southern Alberta Institute of Technology student, Shirdon was one of the most outspoken Canadians in ISIS. A prolific online presence, he regularly posted threats, ISIS propaganda and photos of himself on social media accounts that were invariably suspended.
“We are coming and we will destroy you,” he said in an ISIS video. “With permission from Allah the almighty, we will bring you slaughter.” He was then shown dropping his Canadian passport into a bonfire.
Shirdon was born in Toronto in 1993. His family had moved to the city after their native Somalia fell into chaos and violence. They then uprooted to Calgary, where Shirdon went to school.
He showed little interest in religion until 2012, when he began attending a downtown Calgary prayer centre that became a hub for a half-dozen extremists who went on to join ISIS. The Calgary prayer centre is now closed.
On March 14, 2014, he left for Turkey and soon appeared in an ISIS propaganda video calling himself “Abu Usamah” and threatening to bring violence to Canada and the United States.
But his repeated threats to attack the U.S. may have made him a target of military planners. The RCMP laid charges against him in September 2015 — two months after CENTCOM said he was killed. Interpol added Shirdon to a wanted list in November 2015.
Global News reached out to Public Safety Canada and the RCMP for comment but have not yet received a response.
The RCMP, which provided the official federal government response to the U.S. statement, did not respond the questions sent by Global News other than to repeat that Shirdon had been charged.
VICE News was dragged into the case when the police obtained a production order for the online news outlet’s research on Shirdon. VICE has been fighting the order in court, arguing that police use of journalists in criminal investigations would make sources reluctant to come forward.
“If this information is true, I’d hope the government and the RCMP will take another look at my case,” said Ben Makuch, the VICE national security reporter whose research the RCMP is seeking.
The CENTCOM report of his death raises questions about why the RCMP continued to pursue VICE documents if Shirdon was believed dead.
“I don’t see why they would continue to put freedom of the press at risk, to make a case against a dead, alleged, terrorist,” Makuch said. “And if he’s been dead for two years, why has my life been turned upside down over this for the last year or more?”
Vice Canada president Ryan Archibald called on the RCMP to drop its case against Makuch and Vice.
“Continuing to push this case against a young, talented, journalist only further erodes freedom of the press in Canada – we hope the Government of Canada and RCMP will do the right thing,” Archibald said in a statement
Shirdon is one of about 100 extremists who have left Canada to join ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. Amarasingam said he was likely a coalition target because of his apparent role in inciting attacks in the West. “And so I think it makes perfect sense that someone like him, who was very active on social media doing that very thing, would have been put on the list.”