ISIS has finally been expelled but Syria remains divided
The Syrian Civil War has been a messy affair since it began in 2011. Unlike the traditional two-sided war, what has been happening in Syria was always a mess of factions.
It was a war where even an enemy of your enemy was still your enemy. This was perhaps best evidenced by the revelation in 2016 that different American-backed militias were fighting each other. Many of those militias turned out to be terrorist organizations.
A Calgary man who lived on ISIS territory with his wife claims he was asked by the terror cell to plot a terror attack in North America according to Global News.
Safraz Ali, who was a former University of Calgary student moved to live in the occupied Islamic State with his wife, but he claims he was not a member of the group.
Ali says that ISIS tried to recruit him to conduct an attack on North American soil but when he refused he was imprisoned and tortured by the group.
“At least from our short interaction with him, he seems to have gone there with a kind of naïve sense of contributing against the Assad regime,” said Professor and extremism expert Amarnath Amarasingam.
“I said maybe there’s a better meaning for me,” claims Ali. “I didn’t come here to be a fighter.”
He was later accused by the terror cell of being a spy and was imprisoned and after his release he moved to Raqqa and married his wife, Kimberly Polman, a Muslim convert.
Both Polman and Ali are being currently held in separate camps.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused Donald Trump’s offer to mediate a ceasefire that would stop Turkey’s advance into North-Eastern Syria.
“Nobody can stop us until we reach 30 to 35 kilometres (19 to 22 miles) inside Syria,” he said.
Currently, dozens of civilians alongside hundreds of soldiers have reportedly been killed in Turkey’s offensive to create a “safe-zone” within North-Eastern Syria, with another 160,000 being displaced.
While the attack against the Kurds are worrying, the regional implications could be even more devastating.
For example, the Kurds manage the al-Hol camp, an area home to roughly 70,000 individuals, of which 30,000 still swear fealty to the Islamic State.
Already there are reports of ISIS re-organizing in preparation as al-Hol camp guards continue to receive fewer and fewer resources in the face of Turkish assaults.
In response to the growing chaos in the region, it appears some nations are beginning to act in a limited fashion.
According to the National Post, Global Affairs Canada has confirmed that Canada has “temporarily” suspended new arms export to Turkey.
“This unilateral action risks undermining the stability of an already fragile region, exacerbating the humanitarian situation and rolling back progress achieved by the Global Coalition Against Daesh, of which Turkey is a member,” said spokesman Guillaume Berube.
“We call for the protection of civilians and on all parties to respect their obligations under international law, including unhindered access for humanitarian aid.”
Britan, Germany, and France have also suspended arms sales, while the United States has initiated sanctions targetting the Turkish economy.
While sanctions are sure to hurt the Turkish economy, the willingness for Kurdish allies such as the United States to rapidly withdraw support is sure to further destabilize the region, as fewer countries rely on American promises and even fewer potentially fear American arms.
Mohammed Khalifa, the Saudi Arabian-born Canadian citizen and key member of ISIS’ media and propaganda arm, was captured earlier this year following a gunfight with Kurdish fighters.
Having been locked up for nine months, Khalifa says he still feels an “obligation” to the Islamic State.
“I do see an obligation to continue fighting,” said Khalifa to Global News in an on-location interview in Syria.
With all things considered though, Khalifa may get to live out his “obligation,” as he currently faces no charges in Canada.
On top of this, Turkish invaders in the area have brought with them uncertainty, as thousands of other ISIS captives could attempt to escape their imprisonment to rejoin the Islamic State, or worse yet, attempt to return to their home countries.
With that being a potential option, it becomes highly alarming to many that Canadians coming back to Canada would not face any charges.
The Trudeau government has previously stated that ensuring Canadian terrorists face justice is their “top priority,” there have been a grand total of zero ISIS suspects who have met such a fate.
In an interview with former federal government national security lawyer Leah West and extremist researcher Prof. Amarnath Amarsingham at a Kurdish-led base, Khalifa admitted to leaving Canada with the intention of joining ISIS and narrating ISIS propaganda videos, with one of those being the infamous beheading video titled Flames of War.
West says Khalifa should face a variety of charges, including participating in terrorist activity, facilitating terrorist activity and counselling terrorist activity, and taking part in war crimes.
“His voice is very identifiable. And he acknowledges that that is his voice. It wouldn’t be that hard to match the two up,” said West.
“So to me, this is pretty strong evidence that he … committed these crimes. And that type of evidence could be used and would be admissible in a Canadian court.”
When asked whether he believes he’s counselled violence, Khalifa was frank in his response.
“I mean, it’s pretty obvious,” he said.
“As far as I remember, if you did the same sort of thing in America, where you’re translating any jihadi material, you’d be charged with incitement. So I assume it’s the same in Canada,” he said.
Khalifa is sadly not the only Canadian being held in the north Syrian Kurdish base. Mohammad Ali of Toronto admitted to being an ISIS sniper, and openly called for Islamic State attacks in Canada across social media.
Three other men at the base also identified as Canadians.
So what could be the possible reason for the sluggishness of RCMP to lay charges?
The RCMP says it’s due to the “complex and resource-intensive” nature of terrorism charges.
“Often, they require evidence of an individual’s activity in foreign conflict zones, or rely on information provided by partners that we are not authorized to disclose in court,” said RCMP Sgt. Caroline Duval.
Khalifa says it was al-Qaida lectures that radicalized him following his initial interest in Islam.
“I attended some lessons and it just had an impact on me, so I just started taking faith more seriously. At the time, I was basically listening to lectures by Anwar Al Awlaki and following what was happening in Syria.”
“That’s basically when I made the decision, around the summer,” he said.
He told his mother he was moving to Egypt. He disclosed his true intentions to no one.
“I figured that if they knew that I was going to go and fight in Syria they’d try to stop me.”
Following his flight out of Toronto to Egypt and subsequent travel to Istanbul, he took a taxi to the border and gave smugglers a few hundred dollars to get him into Syria by bus.
Khalifa’s plans weren’t written in stone, as his role with the Islamic State remained unclear, eventually joining Muhajireen al Ansar because its members spoke English.
After being sent for training, the Muhajireen joined forces with ISIS, finally being recruited into the media wing in April of 2014.
“They saw in him something — his voice, his language ability — and brought him into the media apparatus in a very big way,” Amarasingam said.
“And he stuck with that media apparatus to the very end.”