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Canada repatriates two women, two children from northeast Syria



Canada has repatriated two women and two children from a camp in northeastern Syria for suspected ISIL (ISIS) members and their families, a move that was welcomed by rights groups that have long called for Canadian citizens to be allowed to return.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government confirmed on Wednesday that the four Canadian citizens had been repatriated.

It also thanked the Syrian authorities for their cooperation and “efforts in providing care for the detained individuals under an extremely difficult security situation and adverse circumstances”, Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Wednesday that Oumaima Chouay, 27, had been arrested at the airport in Montreal upon her return from Syria on Tuesday evening and charged with “terrorism” offences.

Kimberly Polman, 50, was briefly detained when she landed on Wednesday morning and released, her lawyer told the AFP news agency and Canadian media outlets.

No information about the two children was released.

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For years, rights groups and opposition politicians have urged the Canadian government to repatriate dozens of its citizens held in camps in northeastern Syria, saying they were languishing in “inhumane” conditions without being charged with a crime.

Canada is among several Western countries facing public pressure to repatriate citizens who joined or lived under ISIL, which had seized control of large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Human Rights Watch Canada said in a June 2020 report that at least 47 Canadian citizens, including 26 children, were being held by Kurdish-led authorities in the camps.

Chouay had been the subject of an investigation since 2014 by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, Canada’s counterterrorism squad, the RCMP said in a statement on Wednesday. She faces four criminal charges, including participating in “terrorist group” activity.

Chouay was taken prisoner in 2017 by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, and she was held at al-Roj camp in Syria, RCMP Inspector David Beaudoin said during a news conference.

Polman, who was said to be in poor health, spent three years in a detention camp after travelling to Syria in 2015 to marry an ISIL fighter, which she later publicly said she regretted.

“Repatriate, as a matter of urgent priority, all Canadian citizens detained in northeast Syria, giving priority to children, persons requiring urgent medical assistance, and other particularly vulnerable detainees,” Human Rights Watch Canada tweeted on Tuesday evening as news of the women’s release broke.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, New Democratic Party MP Heather McPherson welcomed the repatriation of the four Canadians, but said dozens more are still being held.

“It is far too late. There are still dozens of Canadians, including Canadian children, who are living in appalling conditions in northern Syria,” McPherson said.

“The government of Canada has said that it is impossible to repatriate these Canadians. And I think what we see today … is that it is very possible, that Canada has always had the ability,” she said.

In 2020, Canada repatriated a five-year-old orphaned girl from Syria after her uncle took legal action against the government. Another child also was repatriated in 2021 as was her mother several months later.

United Nations human rights officials welcomed that first repatriation case, saying it was “absolutely urgent that women and children” be allowed to return to their home countries.

“We have found the conditions for women and children in these Syrian detention camps reaches the threshold standard for torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law,” they said in October 2020.

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Canada had previously said its lack of a diplomatic presence in Syria complicated efforts to repatriate citizens held in the camps. It also has argued that these repatriations could pose a security risk to the country.

In its statement on Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada said the safety of all Canadians, both at home and abroad, remained a top priority.

“Canada conducted the operation on that basis and ensured the health and wellbeing of the 4 Canadians,” it said, thanking the United States for its assistance in the operation.

“Canada cannot provide information about the individuals due to privacy considerations and cannot share details of the repatriation for operational security reasons.”

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Edmonton man found guilty on terrorism charge in United Kingdom



EDMONTON – An Edmonton man has been convicted in the United Kingdom of being a member of a proscribed terrorist group.

RCMP said Khaled Hussein, a Canadian citizen, was convicted Tuesday of being involved in al-Muhajiroun, an organization linked to killings and attacks in London.

Mounties say he was convicted alongside and shared information on behalf of Anjem Choudary, a director of the proscribed group.

Both are to be sentenced later this month.

Police said Hussein, who worked at an Edmonton gas station, was determined as far back as 2019 as being a person of interest among those who recruit and radicalize entry into violent extremism.

In June 2023, RCMP said investigators learned Hussein was travelling to London. He was arrested a month later at Heathrow Airport.

Choudary was also arrested that month and charged with being a member of the group, directing it and encouraging support.

RCMP said the investigation involved law enforcement from the U.K. and the United States.

“This investigation is truly an example of how information and intelligence sharing as well as collaboration between countries is vital to stopping the spread of online extremism and radicalization,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Lisa Moreland of the northwest region in federal policing operations.

“It serves as a reminder that extremism can take hold even in the unlikeliest of locations and that we must all remain vigilant.”

Choudary, a British citizen, was convicted in 2016 for terror charges related to inviting support for Islamic State militants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Deaths of women, 3 stabbings are ‘deeply unsettling,’ Vancouver mayor says



VANCOUVER – A suspect is in custody after three apparent random stabbings in Vancouver, where police are also investigating the deaths of two women, a series of events the city’s mayor calls “deeply unsettling.”

Three men were stabbed blocks apart in Vancouver’s downtown core late Monday.

A suspect was arrested and police have said there’s no indication the victims knew each other or their attacker.

It happened on the same day that police said a woman’s body was found on the south side of English Bay, after the body of another woman was found on the opposite shore just a day earlier.

Police have said the causes of death for the unidentified women have not been determined and investigators are working to determine whether a crime occurred and if there’s a connection between the deaths.

Mayor Ken Sim says the events have shaken the community, and the safety of every Vancouverite is the city’s commitment to its residents and visitors.

“The recent tragic events — especially the heartbreaking discovery of two deceased individuals in English Bay and the violent stabbings that occurred last night — are deeply unsettling,” Sim said in a statement released on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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‘Looked awesome’: Accused in murder-conspiracy trial says unaware gun prohibited



LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – One of two men charged with conspiring to murder RCMP officers at the Coutts, Alta., border blockade two years ago testified Tuesday he wasn’t aware that the custom-made rifle he had purchased was a prohibited weapon.

Chris Carbert said he paid $5,000 for the DPS Panther A15 rifle found under his mattress in an early morning police raid of a trailer in the village the night he was arrested.

Carbert and Anthony Olienick are being tried together before a jury in Court of King’s Bench in Lethbridge.

The two were charged after police made arrests and seized weapons at the blockade in early 2022.

Carbert said he purchased the assault rifle two weeks before the blockade began but hadn’t even sighted the scope for it.

“It says DPS Panther A15. Did you know what kind of gun it was? What I mean by that is…what type of firearm it was?” Crown prosecutor Steven Johnston asked Carbert. “What made it special to you?”

“That it was custom built and just it looked awesome,” Carbert replied.

“Do you know what an AR-15 is?” said Johnston. “I’m going to suggest to you that the reason you paid $5,000 plus another $1,500 for a scope for it is because you knew it was an AR-15. That’s a special gun in Canada.”

“OK, but I didn’t know,” Carbert said.

Carbert has testified he brought guns and body armour to the blockade but said there was no plan for violence unless he had to perhaps flee to the mountains and fend off someone trying to give him a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

He also told the jury that he had little to do with Olienick and others staying in the trailer, that he was “grumpy and sick” as he tried to recover from COVID-19.

Johnston, in a tense exchange with the accused, suggested when Carbert was arrested in the police raid, he did more than just call a lawyer before surrendering. He said Carbert attempted to hide his weapons and had to make a decision.

“You were trying to decide, ‘How do I come out? Do I come with my hands on my head’ or on the trigger of your gun? That’s what you were trying to decide.” said Johnston.

“Definitely not,” Carbert said.

“You were thinking, ‘Is this the war? Is this them coming for me and is this my war?'” Johnston continued.

“Definitely not.”

“Even all that talk that you’ve given us if they came for you out in the mountains.” Johnston said.

“But we’re nowhere near that point, Mr. Johnston,” Carbert said. “They’re not coming to stick a needle in my arm.”

The protest against COVID-19 rules and vaccine mandates tied up traffic for two weeks at the Alberta-U.S. border crossing at Coutts.

It ended quickly and peacefully when police seized weapons and made arrests.

Johnston also asked Carbert about a conversation Carbert had with a friend in late 2021 in which he said, “If they think they are coming for my kids they better be prepared because they will likely be leaving in a body bag.”

“Did you say that to him?” Johnston queried.

“Yeah, I said that. I mean I’ve said some colourful things. There’s no doubt about it,” he replied. “I’ve also said if they came to put the vaccine in me and my kid that they weren’t doing it.”

Court has heard Olienick considered the blockade the fight of a lifetime against a government bent on ending individual freedoms.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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