A Canadian ISIS member caught in Syria and flown to the United States to stand trial should have been prosecuted in Canada, a lawyer representing his family said Monday.
“If there is evidence against Canadians who are being arbitrarily detained in northeast Syria, they should be brought home and prosecuted,” Lawrence Greenspon told Global News.
“I don’t think we should be relying on the United States to repatriate Canadians in this way.”
While the RCMP has also been investigating the former Toronto IT worker, who was captured by Kurdish forces in January 2019, the Canadian government would not return him to Canada.
Known as the “voice of ISIS,” Khalifa is the first alleged Canadian ISIS member caught in Syria to be taken to the U.S.
Greenspon said he received no notice from Global Affairs Canada that the U.S. was taking custody of Khalifa, and wondered whether the government of Canada was even aware.
The charges were sworn in U.S. district court eight months ago, but it’s unclear Ottawa knew. Global Affairs Canada referred questions to the RCMP, which has not yet responded.
“Global Affairs Canada has indicated it is in contact with local authorities to gather additional information,” according to a statement from Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office.
In an interview with Global News after he was captured, Khalifa admitted he was an ISIS fighter and had worked for the ISIS media department, narrating execution videos.
The RCMP subsequently obtained a court order requiring Global News to hand over its recording of the interview, conducted at a Kurdish military base in northeast Syria.
Documents filed in the case showed the RCMP was “investigating Mr. Khalifa for serious terrorism offences” including committing an indictable offence for the benefit of a terrorist group.
But after the Canadian government failed to bring him to Canada to face justice, the FBI took over, charged him and moved him to the U.S.
“To those who say, ‘Let our Canadians rot in prison over there,’ this is what should be done,” Greenspon said, although he added that Khalifa should have instead been flown to Canada.
The U.S. has repeatedly appealed to countries like Canada to repatriate and prosecute their citizens held at the Kurdish-run detention facilities.
Khalifa was one of 13 adult Canadians held by U.S.-back Kurdish fighters. Four men and eight women now remain, along with their children.
Canada has so far repatriated only two children.
Last week, Greenspon filed an application in Federal Court on behalf of the families of the detainees. It asks the court to order the government to return them.
The U.S. has charged Khalifa, a 38-year-old Saudi-born Canadian citizen, with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. He was allegedly a “lead translator” of ISIS propaganda materials.
“Let there be no doubt, the FBI will hold terrorists and those who provide material support to terrorist organizations accountable for their actions,” said Timothy Langan of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division.