The RCMP investigated the content of a U.S. podcast and “other avenues of information” before charging a Toronto-area man with allegedly faking his involvement in ISIS, the police force said.
In a statement to Global News, the RCMP confirmed its investigation had focused partly on the popular New York Times podcast Caliphate, about a Canadian who claimed he was an ISIS executioner.
The subject of the podcast, identified by police as Shehroze Chaudhry, a 25-year-old resident of Burlington, Ont., was charged on Friday with committing a terrorism hoax.
“The information aired in the Caliphate podcast series was investigated, as were other avenues of information available to us, with the result of our investigation being the basis for the charge laid against Mr. Chaudhry,” RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Lucie Lapointe said.
“The RCMP has no further comments as this is an ongoing investigation.”
The award-winning podcast triggered debate in the House of Commons after it interviewed Chaudhry as he described executing ISIS prisoners in Syria, in one case by stabbing a man in the heart.
The police allegation that Chaudhry, who used the alias Abu Huzayfah, made it all up has prompted a review by the New York Times, a spokesperson for the newspaper said on Wednesday.
“While the uncertainty about Abu Huzayfah’s story was explored directly in episodes of Caliphate that featured him, his arrest and the allegations surrounding it have raised new and important questions about him and his motivations,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha.
“We’re undertaking a fresh examination of his history and the way we presented him in our series. We will have more to say when we complete that effort.”
Chaudhry is scheduled to appear in Brampton court on Nov. 16. He has declined to comment to Global News.
After returning to Canada from Pakistan in 2016, Chaudhry claimed in social media posts that he had served in the ISIS religious police in Syria.
He then told reporters at the Times, the CBC, Global News and other outlets he had been in ISIS and returned to Canada without consequence.
But his story was inconsistent and evolving, and a counter-terrorism investigation described by police as “lengthy” did not result in charges until Friday’s allegation that it was all a hoax.
“Creating hoaxes and false claims which aim to generate fear in our communities is completely unacceptable,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office said in a statement.
“Canadians can be confident that our security agencies take these threats seriously, and have the skills and resources necessary to detect, investigate and respond quickly.”
Writing in Slate, two Canadian national security scholars said the “Abu Huzayfah” story “had a direct impact on the radicalization debate in Canada and elsewhere.”
It also profoundly changed the policy debate about what to do with the dozens of Canadians held at ISIS camps in Syria, Leah West and Amarnath Amarasingam wrote.
The federal government has so far refused to repatriate any of the captives on the grounds it is too dangerous to send Canadian officials to northeastern Syria.
“Despite the damage done by Huzayfah’s claims, proving that he committed a crime will not be easy,” the professors wrote, adding that prosecutors would have to prove his alleged hoax created a “reasonable apprehension of fear.”
“Finally, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Huzayfah made those statements with the intent to cause that fear,” they wrote.
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