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RCMP arrest two women after they arrive in Canada from Syrian camps

Click to play video: 'Questions over Ottawa’s policy after Canadians who joined ISIS repatriated'
Questions over Ottawa’s policy after Canadians who joined ISIS repatriated
WATCH: Two women who left Canada to join ISIS fighters have now returned home with their children, after spending years in a detention camp in Syria. Mercedes Stephenson explains – Oct 26, 2022

Two Canadians captured in Syria during the fight against the so-called Islamic State were arrested by the RCMP early Wednesday after their flight landed in Montreal.

The women are the first the Canadian government has brought home from detention camps in northeast Syria for foreign ISIS members and their families.

Oumaima Chouay, 27, was charged with four terrorism offences, including leaving Canada to participate in the activity of a terrorist group.

“According to the investigation, Ms. Chouay allegedly travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State terrorist group,” RCMP Insp. David Beaudoin told reporters.

She is the first Canadian captured by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters to face charges in Canada. She was to appear in court Wednesday in Montreal.

Read more: Canada’s secretive policy on ISIS detainees closes door to repatriation

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A second Canadian, Kimberly Polman, was also arrested but not charged. Instead, RCMP are seeking a terrorism peace bond against her.

A copy of the peace bond application obtained by Global News alleges that police have reasonable grounds to believe Polman “may commit a terrorism offence.”

It asked the court to impose restrictions on her for 12 months.

Her lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said Polman was expected to be released after signing a recognizance and she would then return to Abbotsford, B.C.

A Canadian government delegation met with officials in rebel-held northeast Syria on Tuesday before the two women were handed over into their custody. Chouay’s two children were also brought back to Canada.

The Al-Hawl Camp, where most of the families captured during the fight against ISIS are detained.

The move is an about-face for the Canadian government, which had previously refused to help bring any of its citizens out of the detention camps, arguing it had no legal obligation to do so and it was too dangerous.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he would not speak about the matter directly “because it’s in the hands of the police and that’s eventually the courts.”

“But it is important that we make sure that people know you cannot get away with supporting terrorism in this country regardless of the circumstance.”

Asked if more Canadians would be repatriated, he said the government would “continue to engage responsibly in the region, monitor closely. We have a framework around doing this.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian woman detained in Syria says she accepts she could face prosecution'
Canadian woman detained in Syria says she accepts she could face prosecution

Under a policy adopted by Global Affairs Canada in January 2021, Canadians detained at ISIS camps in Syria can only receive “extraordinary assistance” under limited circumstances, such as if they have medical issues that cannot be treated on site.

Polman qualified because she was suffering from an array of serious health problems.

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“Canada conducted the operation on that basis and ensured the health and well-being of the 4 Canadians,” a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

Polman left Canada to marry an ISIS fighter she met online but has said she quickly became disillusioned and was mistreated by both her husband and ISIS.

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The RCMP said the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team had been investigating Chouay since November 2014.

“In Syria, it is alleged that she participated in terrorist activities in the name of the Islamic State. In November 2017, Ms. Chouay was taken prisoner by the Syrian Democratic Forces,” said Insp. Beaudoin, head of the Montreal INSET.

She faces charges of participation in terrorist group activity, providing property for terrorist purposes and conspiracy to leave Canada to participate in terrorist group activity.

Her children were taken into the custody of Quebec’s social services department, RCMP said.

“The two women who returned this week were struggling with serious medical issues in the camps, so Canada did the right thing bringing them back when they did,” said Prof. Amaranth Amarasingam of Queen’s University.

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A terrorism researcher who has been studying foreign fighters, Amarasingam said it was “quite astonishing that over 20 children and around a dozen women remain in the camps, though.”

“It would have made much more sense to just bring them all back at once, as opposed to what is happening now.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian ISIS fighters detained in Syria left in legal limbo'
Canadian ISIS fighters detained in Syria left in legal limbo

About a dozen Canadian women and men, as well as their children, are still being held in Syria. They include self-confessed ISIS members and others who claim they were duped into travelling to Syria.

Another B.C. woman who had allegedly been part of ISIS returned to Canada last November and was arrested on a terrorism peace bond. Her release from Syria was not facilitated by the Canadian government.

Her daughter and an orphan are the only others brought to Canada from the camps. Another Canadian, Mohammed Khalifa, was flown to the United States last year and has pleaded guilty to executing prisoners on video.

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Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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