Surrounded within the shrinking territory of the Islamic State 9 months in the past, Safraz Ali fled together with his spouse, strolling to a navy checkpoint the place troopers requested their nationalities.
“I stated, ‘Canadians,’” Ali informed World Information at a navy base in northern Syria, the place he was being held at a jail for ISIS suspects.
In an interview, Ali revealed that ISIS had tried to recruit him to return to North America to conduct terrorist assaults. However he stated he had refused.
“I don’t consider in international assaults,” he stated.
For declining to take part within the plot, Ali stated he was jailed and tortured by ISIS.
“Saf’s one of many good ones,” stated his spouse, Kimberly Polman, a Canadian who married him within the ISIS capital of Raqqa and can be detained by Kurdish forces in Syria.
Slender and clean-shaven, Ali is a puzzle: a former College of Calgary scholar who left residence to stay in ISIS territory however claims he was by no means a member of ISIS.
His case highlights the challenges governments face following the collapse of ISIS six months in the past as they’re requested to repatriate and prosecute their residents held in camps and prisons in northern Syria.
What, precisely, was his position in ISIS? If Ali have been despatched residence, might he be charged? Ought to he be? Is there proof he was extra concerned than he admits? Is he even actually a Canadian citizen?
Whereas a few of these captured in Syria brazenly acknowledge their contributions to ISIS, the involvement of others, like Ali, is much less clear, making it harder to know how one can cope with them.
“A minimum of from our quick interplay with him, he appears to have gone there with a form of naïve sense of contributing towards the Assad regime,” stated Prof. Amarnath Amarasingam, who additionally met with Ali, together with nationwide safety lawyer Leah West.
Ali described turning into disillusioned with ISIS nearly instantly after arriving in Syria in addition to his makes an attempt to keep away from becoming a member of a combating group and his imprisonment and torture for defying ISIS.
“Whether or not any of that’s plausible and whether or not there’s proof that he did different issues whereas right here continues to be form of up within the air,” stated Amarasingam, a Queen’s College professor.
He faces no fees in Canada. World Affairs Canada will solely say it’s conscious that Canadians are detained in Syria.
Why Turkey is attacking Kurd forces in Syria
Days earlier than the Turkish navy invaded northern Syria, throwing the destiny of ISIS detainees into query, Ali recounted how he was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and later moved to Calgary, the place his father was learning.
When his mother and father cut up up, Ali went again to Trinidad together with his mom however returned to Canada to attend the College of Calgary. Two of his brothers have been born in Toronto and nonetheless stay there, he stated.
“I might say I’ve Canadian … and I’ve Trinidad nationality,” he stated.
Recent from a breakup, he stated he determined to hitch 4 Trinidadian mates who have been on their strategy to the Islamic State with their households.
“I stated possibly there’s a greater which means for me,” he stated. “I didn’t come right here to be a fighter.”
Moderately, he stated he felt compelled to do one thing about these struggling within the metropolis of Aleppo.
“When the folks cry for assist, as a Muslim, you’re supposed to assist,” Ali stated.
He stated he was informed that in Syria, “all the things is sweet, you already know, these folks practising their faith and all the things.” However that wasn’t what he discovered when he arrived from Turkey in March 2015.
For the primary two months, Ali stated he was “put in a spot” the place “they provide you programs, you must study non secular stuff,” including that due to his passport, he glided by the title Ahmed Kanadi, Arabic for Ahmed Canadian.
As soon as by means of coaching, ISIS informed him to search out an English-speaking combating group as a result of his Arabic was weak. However as a substitute, he spent “5 months simply doing nothing,” he stated within the interview.
Ultimately, he was caught, jailed for 5 days as punishment and assigned to “ribat,” or guard responsibility, on the Turkish border north of Aleppo.
He denied implementing the tough ISIS guidelines on the Syrians he encountered.
“Folks must need one thing, you don’t power it to them,” he stated.
He acknowledged carrying a weapon on the time, saying it was necessary, however that “a weapon don’t kill folks, folks kill folks, perceive?”
Accused by ISIS of being a U.S. spy, Ali stated he was imprisoned in Manbij. He didn’t elaborate however alluded to a video posted on YouTube in June by the Worldwide Middle for the Research of Violent Extremism.
The video confirmed a person with a blurred face, who it referred to as “Abu Henricki,” describing how ISIS had tried to recruit him to return to North America to conduct “monetary assaults to cripple the financial system.”
“That’s me,” Ali informed World Information. “I don’t consider in these acts. It price me 5 months after which it price me a whole lot of ache.”
Upon his launch from jail, Ali went to Raqqa, the place he stated he continued to do nothing and was “simply staying in an residence, simply making an attempt to recuperate from the jail.”
He needed to marry an English-speaking girl and heard about Polman, a Muslim convert who left Vancouver in 2015 and was smuggled into ISIS territory after corresponding with a person she met on-line.
“I might relate to her, discuss to her,” Ali stated.
They have been married, however Ali grew to become in poor health and was recognized with Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel illness. A health care provider on the Raqqa hospital gave him a letter excusing him from his duties so he handed in his gun, he stated.
“I simply needed to stay a superb life with my spouse,” he stated.
He claimed he continued to do nothing however stay in ISIS territory as a non-ISIS member till 2017 when masked males got here to his door at 10 p.m. to arrest Polman an himself.
The couple was imprisoned on the grounds they’d needed to go away ISIS territory, one thing he stated Polman had expressed brazenly.
“She’s very outspoken, and what she sees improper she is going to say, and he or she by no means hid the actual fact she needed to go away,” Ali stated.
One other Canadian was behind their arrest, he stated. Farah Mohamed Shirdon, who glided by Abu Usamah, was “one of many heads of safety.” His job was to detain these making an attempt to go away, in keeping with Ali, who stated the couple was informed Shirdon had ordered their arrest.
“The division the place they torture folks and take prisoners, these suspected as spies, these towards Dawla [Islamic State] insurance policies, he’s that man who will put you within the jail,” Ali stated.
Life was tough after they have been launched with a warning that they might be executed in the event that they tried to go away, he stated. Polman miscarried 5 months into her time period, he stated. In the meantime, ISIS was shedding Raqqa to the Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition forces.
Just like the ISIS management, they fled the town and went southeast to Al Mayadin, then stored transferring in the direction of the Syrian-Iraqi border, searching for a smuggler to get them out, Ali stated.
Ultimately, there was nowhere left to go, and so they determined to attempt to get to some extent the place they may discover a smuggler, however as a substitute they got here to a safety checkpoint.
“They stated, ‘The place are you from?’ I stated, ‘Canada,’” Ali stated.
Polman stated Ali might have left sooner however “he was making an attempt to get a whole lot of the opposite individuals who stayed again, to attempt to get them to return out.”
She stated ISIS took the passports of these arriving in its territory and he or she had by no means seen Ali’s.
“What, precisely, his documentation is at this level, I don’t suppose Canada’s stripped citizenship,” she stated.
World Information visits ISIS detention camp in Syria
They have been handed to American troops, who took their fingerprints. Ali and Polman have been separated and haven’t seen one another since. She is at a camp for feminine detainees.
“I’m not a radical, I’m not an extremist. I don’t consider in acts of slavery or international assaults, which I’m towards. And if I might work towards these folks, I might work towards these folks,” he stated.
He spoke about returning to Canada, getting a level in historical past and discovering a job constructing oil pipelines. He stated he was conscious that returning to Canada might imply arrest and extra jail time.
“It might be higher for us,” he stated. “Jail’s not good for anyone, however at the very least I might see my spouse by some means and I might discuss to her, and possibly we each might do some research there. Understanding that she’ll be shut by could be very a lot what I would like.
“I simply need a quiet life.”
© 2019 World Information, a division of Corus Leisure Inc.