Canada arrests man for prominent hoax 'ISIS executioner' claims

The man was widely interviewed, and featured as a central character in the New York Time's Caliphate podcast, but police believe he made up his account

In this photo taken Monday, June 23, 2014, fighters of the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, more than two weeks after ISIL took over the country's second largest city. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Mideast nations on Wednesday against taking new military action in Iraq that might heighten already-tense sectarian divisions, as reports surfaced that Syria launched airstrikes across the border and Iran has been flying surveillance drones over the neighboring country. (AP Photo)
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Canadian police have arrested a man featured in numerous media reports as a self-professed ISIS executioner for faking his account of joining the group in Syria.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Friday that the criminal charge against Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, stems from numerous media interviews in which he described travelling to Syria in 2016 to join the ISIS and committing acts of extremism.

Canada's Global News said police confirmed that Mr Chaudhry was Abu Huzayfah, a central character in the award-winning New York Times podcast Caliphate.

The RCMP said the Burlington, Ontario, man’s interviews in print, on podcasts and a television documentary raised public safety concerns.

Mr Chaudhry’s interviews sparked a backlash in Canada with Conservative politicians asking the government in parliament why an outspoken self-avowed ISIS member was allowed to walk free.

RCMP Superintendent Christopher deGale said hoaxes can generate fear by creating the illusion there is a potential threat to Canadians.

“As a result, the RCMP takes these allegations very seriously, particularly when individuals, by their actions, cause the police to enter into investigations in which human and financial resources are invested and diverted from other ongoing priorities,″ said Mr deGale, commander of an RCMP security enforcement team.

The RCMP said it collaborated with several other agencies during the course of the investigation.

Mr Chaudhry is charged with a criminal code offence of perpetrating a hoax related to terrorist activity. He is to appear in court on November 16.

Rukmini Callimachi, the New York Times journalist behind the Caliphate podcast also commented on the development, highlighting how the team had uncovered several lies in Mr Chaudhry’s account during investigations, despite – she says – finding evidence that he had been in Syria. She also said they had struggled to understand from Canadian authorities why he had not previously been arrested.

“Why haven’t they charged him? His social media alone in an American setting would likely be enough for material support of terrorism charge. I was told Canada is different,” she tweeted. “Did they not charge him because they *couldn’t* gather the information about him (physically, since they apparently can’t go to Syria) or because their laws don’t allow it? Or because they thought he was making it up?”

Amarnath Amarasingam, a Queen’s University professor who works on terrorism and has been in contact with Chaudhry since 2017, commented on the development on Twitter.

“I'm not obviously going to comment on whether I think he went to Syria or not. Kind of irrelevant at this point,” he wrote. “But, I do think this charge creates an interesting dilemma for the RCMP and for Huzayfah [Mr Chaudhry]. Does he admit he went to Syria, and face a terrorism offence?”

He said that the little-used charge against Mr Chaudhry of perpetrating hoax terrorist activity “put the onus” on the Canadian police to prove conclusively that he did not join ISIS and that in spreading his account others believed there was a risk of further terrorist activity in Canada.

“This is an uphill battle in many ways for the [Royal Canadian Mounted Police], and they may see themselves losing the case,” he wrote.