Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

More background on the women who joined or supported ISIS:

Thousands of foreign-born women left their homes and lives to join Islamic State and marry its fighters. But now that the militant group’s so-called caliphate is reduced to crumbled masonry and scorched rebar, many of them want to return home.

Shamima Begum was a teenage schoolgirl in east London when she left home to join Islamic State; Hoda Muthana, an Alabama-born college student; Kimberly Gwen Polman, a 46-year-old single mom in Canada studying to be a children’s advocate. Now they’re held in a Kurdish-controlled prison in the hinterlands of eastern Syria, asking to be let back into their home countries.

The women branded “ISIS brides,” using initials for the militant group, have become a focal point of fierce debate for governments worldwide: What are states’ responsibilities toward these women?

A central question in that debate is what exactly did the women do in the caliphate? Were they cloistered housewives largely ignorant of the group’s realities, or active participants in its genocidal acts?

Women initially did not join combat

When Islamic State declared the establishment of its caliphate in 2014, it called upon all able-bodied Muslims to emigrate and engage in jihad, or struggle, to further its cause.

Initially, for women, that didn’t include combat, said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

“The role of the Muslim woman ideally was to be a wife and bear children,” he said in a phone interview, “and as a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.”

While its militants were waging what Islamic State called “offensive jihad” — blitz campaigns that saw the group put a third of Iraq and Syria each under its dominion — women were to be “bases of support” for husbands, fathers and sons, one wife explained.

Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of Amedy Coulibaly, the Paris gunman who killed five people in two January 2015 attacks, offered advice for fighters’ wives during a interview in an Islamic State magazine.

“Be advisors to them. They should find comfort and peace with you,” she said in an article in the February 2015 issue of Dabiq. “Do not make things difficult for them. Facilitate all matters for them.”

As a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.

Boumeddiene, who like her husband was born in France, is still at large and being sought by French authorities.

Women did claim more operational roles in suicide attacks outside Islamic State territories, said Devorah Margolin, a senior research analyst at the War Studies Department of Kings College London.

But most women who traveled to the caliphate intent on reaching the battlefield were unable to do so.

That changed to a degree as the group began to lose territory and many of its fighters were killed. It began to wage “defensive jihad.”

“By 2017 and 2018 they were proactively calling for women to engage in combat as well,” said Winter.

But there is little evidence women did so in large numbers.

Winter said there had been rumors of women given explosives and weapons training, but Islamic State never confirmed these reports.

There had been predictions women would increasingly take part in suicide bombings, since they generally have an easier time passing through checkpoints and whose faces could remain hidden under their garments.

There was also precedence for their deployment: Abu Musab Zarqawi, the spiritual godfather of Islamic State, dispatched Sajida Rishawi with a suicide vest to the Hotel Radisson in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2005. She failed to detonate her bomb but was caught by authorities after her husband’s device killed 38 people.

Some carried guns in the religious police force

Islamic State’s religious police, known as the Hisbah, roamed its territory to ensure residents were complying with the caliphate’s harsh edicts. People found in violation faced imprisonment, whipping and amputation. An all-female police force known as the Khansaa Brigade was an integral part of the Hisbah.

“We saw women in the Hisbah. They were all armed,” said Saad Ubaidi, who owns a beauty salon with his wife in Mosul, Iraq.

“Iraqi women had guns, but the foreigners carried ghadaraat,” said Ubaidi, using the slang term for Uzi machine guns.

Women played a vital part in the propaganda war

Women may not have fought on the battlefield, but they helped Islamic State spread its message.

“They were very much part of the propaganda machine of this state-building process,” said Margolin, who is writing a report on women’s role in violent Islamist groups for George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Women were some of Islamic State’s most active recruiters online, she said.

Blogs and social media accounts ostensibly held by foreign-born female adherents advertised their lives as if they were in an Islamist utopia. They encouraged others to do hijrah, emigrate to the caliphate.

Some would provide a guide on how to avoid being identified as someone traveling to Syria to join Islamic State. Others would suggest what to pack for life in the caliphate (makeup and Islamic clothing, according to one blogger), or offer quotidian details on how the group assigned housing to fighters and women.

Others would cheer for the group’s barbarism and gruesome tactics.

Muthana, the Alabama-born student and daughter of a Yemeni diplomat who joined Islamic State in 2014, exhorted Americans to follow her lead.

“Soooo many Aussies and Brits here,” she tweeted from her now-suspended account. “But where are the Americans, wake up u cowards.”

She encouraged those who couldn’t travel to Islamic State territory to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“Veterans, Patriot, Memorial etc Day parades..go on drive by’s + spill all of their blood or rent a big truck n drive all over them. Kill them,” she tweeted.

Women took part in the enslavement of Yazidis

In August 2014, the extremists surrounded Mt. Sinjar in northwestern Iraq. They began to hunt the Yazidis, an ancient religious minority long persecuted for their beliefs, which include elements of Christianity and Judaism. Islamic State viewed them as devil-worshipers.

Thousands of Yazidi men were slaughtered; women and girls were kidnapped and driven away to be sold in markets or given as gifts. In their enslavement, the women and girls would be servants to the household’s wife and raped by the husband.

One wife of an Islamic State member with a Yazidi enslaved in her household defended the practice in an issue of Dabiq. Her article was entitled “Slave-girls or Prostitutes?”

The woman, who called herself Umm Sumayyah al Muhajirah, cited religious texts and the works of scholars to construct an argument for taking Yazidi women as concubines. And she dismissed reports of abuse, attributing them to “devious and wicked slave girls” who “made up lies and wrote false stories.”

And whereas sex with a Yazidi slave is permissible, she adds, prostitutes in the West “openly commit sin.”

“Leave us alone with your burping,” she wrote of people judging the slave practice.

Pinning down what each person did will be difficult

Investigators looking for clues to the individual actions of each woman, away from social media, will have a difficult time gathering evidence admissible in a court of law.

“In the U.S., we’ve had 16 people who returned that we know of, 13 have been prosecuted in federal courts, so there’s a system to do it,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But most of those were people who admitted their actions, he added. For those who don’t, investigators using Islamic State documents, for example, have to have a rock-solid chain of evidence, which is difficult to establish in the chaotic environment of a war zone.

Witnesses, often intelligence or security personnel, are often reluctant to testify in open court, and identifying women dressed in three-layer niqabs, the de rigueur face covering, will be unreliable.

Even the social media presence these women maintained is being lost. Blogging sites like Tumblr or WordPress, and messaging platforms such as Telegram, have aggressively shut down the accounts of Islamic State-affiliated users.

In any case, said Margolin, the women probably weren’t lying when they said they had been mostly concerned with family matters, but that didn’t absolve them of responsibility.

“Yes, they were wives and mothers, but what that means isn’t like what we mean when we think of a housewife,” said Margolin.

As the bearers of the group’s ideology for the next generation of fighters, she said, they were pursuing a higher objective.

“They represented,” said Margolin, “the future and permanence of Islamic State.”

Source: Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

The West Needs to Take the Politics of Women in ISIS Seriously

Well worth reading and reflecting upon that these were conscious choices by the women involved and that they should not be portrayed as victims:

In recent weeks, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have closed in on the last remaining Islamic State holdout in eastern Syria. The remains of the so-called caliphate occupy less than half of a square mile of a small village called Baghuz, and all but a few hundred remaining insurgents have been driven out of the area by U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish ground operations. Over a thousand fighters and civilians, including many Islamic State militants’ wives and children, have fled. The SDF houses them in camps such as al-Hol, where humanitarian conditions are dire and the application of international law is ambiguous at best.

In the camps, the muhajirat, that is, Western women who joined the Islamic State, are easy to find. And tales of muhajirat like the American Hoda Muthana and the British Shamima Begum “begging to come home” have dominated headlines over the last two weeks. Their stories are part of a wave of recent coverage of Islamic State women, much of it pointing to a supposedly new and uniquely dangerous “Islamic State women problem.” Unfortunately, many of these accounts rest on flimsy scholarship and irresponsible reporting. The sensationalist, politicized, and often factually misleading nature of some reports masks complex political dynamics and peddles tired cliches about women in war, now cast with Iraqis and Syrians instead of Palestinian, Chechen, Timorese, Lebanese, Tamil, or Nigerian women.

The persistent appeal and shock value of the “beautiful but deadly” female fighter depends on an assumption that women have no politics and that their only natural role in times of conflict is to play the (usually sexualized) victim. Media coverage and rhetoric that reduces conflict-affected women to rape victims, sex slaves, or, most recently, “ISIS brides” lends itself to policy responses that have terrible consequences for innocent people. Women’s presumed victimhood has been deployed to justify military intervention, to excuse or obscure widespread human rightsabuses of civilians, and to privilege the judgment of external actors or local male elites over the perspectives of local women about what they need in the aftermath of war. Over-simplified victimization narratives are so entrenched that evidence of women’s political agency in wartime reads as either false consciousness (“ISIS lures women with kittens, Nutella”) or as a monstrous upending of femininity and the natural order.

Sensationalized accounts may garner far more clicks thansober social science, but the bland truth is that women in the Islamic State fall into well-established patterns.

For one, the idea that armed extremism has only recently become attractive to women is simply false. Since shortly after the Islamic State’s inception, women have taken on armed and unarmed roles in it; they have served as police in the group’s all-female Khansaa Brigade, as members of the all-female counterinsurgency brigade Umm al-Rayan, and as recruiters and propagandists. Both foreign and domestic recruits have participated in the brutal torture of Yazidi captives while also playing more domestic roles supporting male Islamic State fighters. Toggling back and forth between violent and nonviolent activities is not unique to the women who have participated in the Islamic State, however. In fact, this is the norm.

Further, although some reports have painted women’s voluntary participation in the Islamic State as unexpected given the group’s ideas about gender, it is not surprising in light of the histories of women in other Islamist and violent movements. Although less likely in groups that identify with Salafi doctrines, women’s participation, including in combat roles, still occurs. For example, women made significant support and frontline contributions to groups in Kashmir and fundamentalist organizations in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

More nuanced reporting on women who joined the Islamic State highlights a broad range of motivations for joining, including survival and coercion as well as status and deeply held commitments to the group’s doctrines. This, too, is consistent with extensive research on women’s participation in other conflicts, which finds that their motivations are deeply political and suggests that they generally have the same reasons for joining armed organizations as men do. Portraying Islamic State women’s behavior as unique to this organization is decontextualizing and counterproductive. It feeds into arguments about the singular brutality of the Islamic State that have been used to justify a heavily military-focused response likely to undermine post-conflict recovery.

Western governments would do well to confront the fact that many Islamic State women reported feeling more liberated after they had joined, not because they liked fighting but because they believed that men in the Islamic State respected their commitment as Muslims. Many of the muhajirat in particular reported fleeing isolation, disaffection, and discrimination as Muslim women in the West. Stripping them of citizenship and otherwise treating Muslims as second-class citizens has every chance of contributing to the dynamics that led women to join in the first place. The same goes for blanket suspicion of anyone wearing a niqab.

Portraying the women of the Islamic State exclusively as victims to be saved or monsters to be feared strips women of their humanity and denies them the complexity, nuance, and depth that media and policymakers readily afford to men. Post-conflict policy that fails to take women’s politics seriously will only feed cycles of violence and impede the pursuit of a sustainable peace.

Source: The West Needs to Take the Politics of Women in ISIS Seriously

Punishment or Banishment?

A rather curious article that lumps some of the Canadian worries regarding returning ISIS fighters (including wives)  with citizenship revocation.

The Liberal government reversed the Conservative government’s change to the Citizenship Act that allowed for revocation in cases of terror or treason

The statelessness provisions in most other countries require having a second nationality in order for citizenship to be revoked which makes the process more difficult to implement (as UK is finding out with respect to Begum not having Bangladeshi citizenship  and Australia with Prakash not having Fijian citizenship).

In the Canadian case, the issue is whether or not Canada should provide normal consular services (e.g., as we do to Canadians on death row in the USA) or make efforts to facilitate their return to Canada.

The former may be difficult given where they are being held and the latter, as many have noted, raises the possibility that there may not be enough evidence to prosecute successfully in Canada.

And while all have justified sympathy for their children, no sympathy for the mothers who made a conscious decision to support ISIS and its horrors and thus have to live with the consequences.

While the mothers have the right to return to Canada, no need for special government efforts to facilitate their return:

So-called jihadi brides are in the news, accused of supporting terrorism by having travelled to ISIS territory to marry ISIS fighters in support of the caliphate. Three Western states are implicated: the UK, the US, and Canada.

UK citizen Shemima Begum left the UK four years ago, when she was 15 years old, and surfaced last month at a Syrian refugee camp, heavily pregnant. US citizen Hoda Muthana, then a college student, left the US four years ago, using her tuition money to buy a ticket to Turkey, from which she was smuggled into ISIS territory. She is now detained in refugee camp in northeastern Syria. Kimberly Gwen Polman, born in Hamilton, Ontario, is a dual Canadian–US national who converted to Islam. She became persuaded by a Syrian fighter online that her incipient nursing skills would be of great value to the caliphate. She left the US in 2015 to join the caliphate, only to attempt to escape nearly a year later. But then she was jailed (and raped) and forced to sign a document acknowledging that if she were to attempt escape again, her punishment would be death. All three women have publicly announced their desire to return home this week.

The UK government reacted swiftly, announcing its intention to remove the citizenship of Begum, thereby denying her the right to return home. Recent official statements suggest UK authorities believe she is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, so revoking her British citizenship will not result in statelessness. US President Donald Trump announced over the weekend that all states should be ready to repatriate (i.e., bring home) and punish their “own” foreign fighters, but then tweeted that he had directed Mike Pompeo “not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!” Canadian officials have been relatively quiet on their intentions. A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada statedonly that “The government is aware of some Canadian citizens currently detained in Syria. There is no legal obligation to facilitate their return.”

These cases are not identical. Begum was a child when she left the UK and is now a mother to a newborn baby boy. Muthana’s choices were exacerbated by her use of social media to celebrate and encourage violence. Polman is known to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. What they share is the right to return home to face trial and punishment in their countries of citizenship.

All states have justice systems in place so that suspected wrongdoers can be tried and punished. Democratic justice systems are those that respect due process rights: the rights to a fair trial, including adequate legal representation, which permits the relevant evidence to be adjudicated by trained judges and, where relevant, juries of their peers.

It is conventional to say that citizens must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and this convention holds even where there appears to be incontrovertible evidence of guilt. Its purpose is to allow the possibility that what looks like a slam-dunk case is murkier upon examination, to ensure that in collecting evidence all of the rights of the accused were respected, and furthermore to allow for the presentation of extenuating circumstances that can complicate what seems like a simple guilty verdict.

There is more to criminal justice in democracies, moreover, than how the accused are treated during the trial phase. The punishments must also meet democratic criteria. It is a principle of punishment in democratic states that any citizen, no matter how criminal, must be treated as someone who can re-enter the community of equals from which she was temporarily excluded by punishment. This principle is why the death penalty must be rejected. It is also why denationalization must also be rejected.

Denationalization of terrorists, the process of revoking citizenship from those suspected of terrorist activities, is gaining in popularity in democratic states, who are rushing to prove they are tough on terror. Denationalizing terrorists is good politics.

Nevertheless, denationalization is unjust and undemocratic. It permits states to abandon citizens who are entitled to their protection in dangerous locations, in principle free to commit additional crimes. The Trudeau government recognized as much when it overturned the parts of the Strengthening Citizenship Act that permitted the revocation of citizenship. Weaselly words stating that Canada is not under the obligation to facilitate the return of suspected wrongdoers reveal an unwillingness to stand by the commitment implied by Mr. Trudeau’s now famous statement, “A Canadian is a Canadian.” Canadians, even criminal Canadians, are entitled to have their rights protected by Canada.

By revoking citizenship, states punish citizens suspected of criminal activities by banishing them, in advance of conviction. They treat them as unworthy of having their rights protected, as beyond the pale, rather than as individuals who in time can learn the error of their ways. These women must be returned to their states of citizenship so that we, their fellow-citizens, can judge their actions and, if appropriate, witness their just punishments.

Source: Punish homegrown terrorists. Don’t revoke their citizenship

A call to help the real victims of IS terrorism: the Yazidis

Valid points:

I’d like you to do me a favour. The next time you read a story like that of Shamima Begum, the UK Islamic State (IS) supporter who desperately wants to come home, although she does not regret her decision to join the terrorist group and thinks the Manchester bombing was justified, or see a report with IS ladies wailing about how they are suffering and cannot believe that their country is abandoning them, or read analysis on how we have a ‘moral obligation’ to rescue these poor souls, I want you to get access to a recent documentary called ‘On her shoulders‘. And I want you to watch it carefully (I just came back from a screening at the Canadian War Museum).

It is the story of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi young woman whom IS terrorists tore from her family in the village of Kocho back in 2014, who witnessed the killing of her kin and others, was brutally raped and sold into sexual slavery and eventually escaped. She is now a UN goodwill ambassador on human trafficking and is doing what she can to keep the plight of her people at the forefront of the world’s conscience.

To watch the film is hard. Not for its graphic content, which is mercifully absent, but for Ms. Murad’s story and the stories of thousands of other Yazidi women and girls, some as young as 10. She makes reference to what she witnessed done to those girls but there are no words to describe what grown men did in their sexual torture of so many innocent lives.

She tells of how many girls committed suicide rather than continue to suffer hellish abuse. She also gives voice to the genocide of her nation, for genocide it was. The perverted, toxic interpretation of Islam that IS practices saw the Yazidis as non-people that needed to be eliminated, except of course for the young women and girls that they used to satisfy their sexual urges.

Now go back to the IS women calling out to be ‘saved’. Look again at their stories of how they were ‘brainwashed’ or ‘coerced’ or ‘misguided’ or ‘just following orders’ (hmm, where have we heard that phrase before? In the aftermath of Nazi Germany: I wonder if their are parallels here?). Do that and try to convince me that we as a nation, as a government, as citizens should move heaven and earth to repatriate these women. Go ahead, try. I’ll wait.

The bottom line is that the surviving ‘women of IS’ are not victims: they are victimisers. Ms. Murad and the thousands of Yazidi men, women and children are the true victims. We must never forget that. Conflating the torturers and the tortured is beyond reproach. The women who joined IS were complicit by definition with the crimes against humanity that heinous terrorist group committed. They do not deserve our sympathy or our efforts to repatriate them. They deserve to be tried and incarcerated. They must pay for their actions. Sure, maybe one day they will repent and be able to rejoin society, but not until after they have answered for their crimes.

I will leave the last words to Ms. Murad. She wants those who did what they did to her and to her people to be held accountable. She wants justice. She wants the world to recognise the genocide visited upon her people by IS. So who are you to say any differently?

Those advocating for the ‘moral obligation’ to bring female IS terrorists home might want to check with Ms. Murad first.

Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State

Not unique to Europe.

Hard to feel any sympathy for the mothers who went to fight for the ISIS. The children are another matter but the integration challenges, with or without their mothers, will be significant:

The children’s voices crackled through the phone and into Fatiha’s gray-walled living room.

“When are we going to grandma’s?” one implored in the background, and then into the phone: “Are you coming to get us?”

In the hallway, six coat hooks were fixed in a row at child’s height. A backpack hung on each one. Up a steep stairway, sheets with characters from Pixar’s “Cars” were carefully tucked into bunk beds, awaiting the children’s return.

But Fatiha, a Belgian whose grandparents emigrated from Morocco, didn’t know when her six grandchildren — who range in age from 10 months to 7 years – would be back. They are among the hundreds of children born to European citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State. Now that the caliphate has collapsed, and the planned U.S. withdrawal has compounded regional instability, grandparents across Europe are pushing to save children whom in some cases they’ve seen only in photos, looking up at them from the dusty desert floor.

“We’re waiting for them, everything is ready for them,” Fatiha, 46, said in an interview at her home outside Antwerp, in a bucolic village where backyards give way to hayfields. The children’s fathers are dead, and their mothers – Fatiha’s daughter and daughter-in-law – would face prison sentences if they return to Belgium. So Fatiha has prepared to care for the children herself. To protect her grandchildren, she spoke on the condition that her last name not be published.

For Belgium, France and other countries that saw some of their nationals gravitate toward Islamic State territory as it expanded across Syria and Iraq, the plight of children who have claims to citizenship has ignited questions that would test the most Solomonic of judges.

Governments are grappling with how much responsibility they bear for the safety of these small citizens, most of them younger than 6, in a region where fresh conflict could erupt. Courts are weighing whether the rights of the children extend to returning with their Islamic State parents. And a bitter public debate is underway about whether grandparents whose own children ran away to the Islamic State can be trusted to raise a new generation differently.

The Kurdish authorities who control the territory in northeastern Syria where many of these families ended up estimate they have more than 1,300 children in their refugee and prison camps. Russia repatriated 27 children last week. France is considering bringing back more than 100 fighters – who would face trial – and their families. But until now, most governments have calculated that the political downside of retrieving parents who may pose security risks outweighs any need to bring back the children.

In Fatiha’s case, a judge ruled that Belgium must repatriate her six grandchildren, along with her daughter and her daughter-in-law – Belgian citizens who joined the Islamic State and now want to come back. The two women were convicted in absentia of joining a terrorist organization and would each face a five-year prison sentence upon their arrival on Belgian soil. But the judge ruled that bringing the children home and leaving their mothers in Syria would violate the children’s human rights.

The Dec. 26 ruling has spurred a furious response from Belgian leaders, and the government plans to appeal in court on Wednesday. Authorities expect whatever precedent is set to affect decisions about other Islamic State families. At least 22 Belgian children are in Syrian camps, and more than 160 are believed to be in the conflict zone.

The most vociferous objections relate to the return of the parents.

“We won’t punish young children for their parents’ misdeeds,” Belgium’s migration secretary, Maggie De Block, said in a statement last month. “They have not chosen the Islamic State. That is why we want to make efforts to bring them back to our country. For the parents, the situation is different. They themselves have deliberately chosen to turn their backs on our country and even to fight against it. Repeatedly.

“Solidarity has its limits,” she said. “The freedom you enjoy in our country to make your own decisions also means you bear responsibility for the consequences.”

Spokesmen for De Block, the justice ministry and Belgium’s prime minister all declined to comment for this report. They would not confirm whether the government was paying the judge’s prescribed penalty of 5,000 euros per child per day if they weren’t returned by Feb. 4.

Even for the children, Belgian sympathy goes only so far. Many people are anxious. Belgium contributed the largest number of Islamic State fighters to Syria per capita of any European Union nation, and the country remains scarred by the attacks of 2016, when Belgian citizens with Islamic State connections targeted Brussels with deadly bombings. Discussions on talk shows and in editorial pages have stoked fear about what the children may have learned from their parents or from Islamic State training camps, which targeted children as young as 6 for indoctrination – although little evidence exists that any of the Belgians were exposed.

Belgium needs to protect “these children as well as our children, and to protect the parents of our children,” said Nadia Sminate, a lawmaker in the regional parliament for the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium who has been a vocal critic of plans to bring back the children. “These children have been raised with different values and norms than our children. We don’t have to be silly about that. They’ve seen the cruelest things in the world.”

When Fatiha needs to cheer herself up, she plays a video her daughter sent last summer of her grandchildren raucously singing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Dutch – their first and only language.

Her days are a blur of frustration. A visit from the police, interviewing her yet again to determine whether she would raise the grandchildren in a radicalized home. A phone call with her lawyer, who is battling the Belgian government to carry out the judge’s order. A rattling train trip to Brussels alongside other grandmothers who are pushing policymakers to repatriate their toddlers. An anxious internet search of prison conditions in Deir Ezzour, Syria, where she was worried her daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren had been taken after they dropped out of contact for more than two weeks last month.

When they resurfaced, they reported that Kurdish authorities had blindfolded them and transferred them not to Deir Ezzour, but to a more brutal camp than they’d been in previously. One of Fatiha’s grandsons has chronic diarrhea, and now he has only a single pair of pants, his mother said. Another has asthma, but no medicine.

“Everything keeps getting worse,” Fatiha’s daughter, Bouchra Abouallal, 25, said in an interview with The Washington Post via a messaging service. “I keep telling the children, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing is going to happen.’ But they’re not stupid anymore.”

After the December court order, “we told our children, ‘We’re almost home. We’ll be there in a month,’ ” Abouallal said, her voice cracking.

A boy’s voice interrupted. “Why are you crying?”

“It’s now they who are calming me down, not the other way around,” Abouallal told The Post.

By Fatiha’s account, her family’s problems started with her 2009 divorce from her children’s father, which sent them searching elsewhere for support.

The family had worn its faith lightly. Fatiha said they practiced “modern Islam.” But her eldest son, Noureddine Abouallal, fell in with an Antwerp group called Sharia4Belgium — which would later be connected to 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Noureddine Abouallal shaved his head and grew a beard. He and his wife — Tatiana Wielandt, who converted to Islam to marry him in 2010 — marked their son’s birth with an announcement that included images of a fighter and a gun.

Bouchra Abouallal and her husband also joined Sharia4Belgium.

In 2013, when eager adherents of jihadism were streaming toward the fighting, the two couples went with their babies to Syria. The men were killed within a year. Abouallal and Wielandt – each pregnant with her dead husband’s child, and each with an older son in tow – returned to Belgium in 2014. The state didn’t seek to prosecute them then.

Fatiha said she was furious that they had run away, but she let them back in her life. Abouallal and Wielandt crammed into a bunk bed. Two baby boys were born. Their toddler sons settled in at a school two doors down.

Once, at a backyard barbecue, one grandson dived under a table as a plane flew overhead – perhaps a reaction ingrained from bombings. But otherwise the boys showed little evidence of what they had been through, Fatiha said.

Then, one day in 2015, they all disappeared, leaving Fatiha with a house full of toys and a child-size Nutella handprint on the door to the backyard.

“I felt like I was stabbed in my back. I felt like I didn’t want to have anything to do with them,” she said. She left the handprint.

In the end, she said, she decided it was better to keep in touch. The young women made it with their children to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. They remarried, but their second husbands were killed around the time Wielandt gave birth to her third child. After Western forces bombarded the city into submission in late 2017, they fled into Kurdish-controlled territory and eventually to the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Her daughter and daughter-in-law ask Fatiha for reminders about what Belgian primary schools teach, so they can try to replicate the lessons. In video clips, the kids show off their somersaults and tumbling. Recently, Abouallal sent a video of Fatiha’s newest granddaughter, born last April, wearing her first headband and plucking at the unfamiliar white elastic as it slipped over her eyes.

“I told them I want to see everything as they grow up,” Fatiha said. “I don’t want to miss a thing.”

But as the Belgian government stalls, and as the security situation in Syria becomes increasingly uncertain, Fatiha and the other grandmothers are growing embittered.

Nabila Mazouz — whose son was caught at the airport as he tried to make his way to Syria – started a support group called Mothers’ Jihad to help fight for the return of Belgians who spent time in the caliphate.

“I understand the government. I understand the security issues,” Mazouz said. “But I guarantee they’re going to come back, and if they come back in 15 to 20 years, what kind of mood are they going to come back in?”

She said that after being repeatedly spurned by Belgian authorities, she now better understands her son’s disaffection.

“I never asked myself, ‘Am I Moroccan or Belgian?’ I said I was Belgian,” she said. “I was born here. I work here. I pay my taxes here. But now I ask myself. Now the parents understand the perspective of the young adults.”

Advocates for the children in Syria have been targeted with bile.

“Normally, everybody likes what we do,” said Heidi De Pauw, the director of Child Focus, a Belgian organization that is modeled on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. But for pressing Belgian authorities on this case, she has received death threats and been told that the children should be “drowned like kittens.”

De Pauw and others say the children should not be condemned because their parents made bad decisions.

One psychologist who traveled to Syria in October to assess Belgian children in the camps, including Fatiha’s grandchildren, said despite everything they have been through, their play and development were relatively normal.

“We were really surprised about how these children were doing,” said Gerrit Loots, a child psychologist at the Free University of Brussels. “Once these children have adapted, they can go to school, they can be with others.”

Loots said his greatest concern was how attached the children were to their mothers. “They’ve never spent a day apart,” he noted.

He said taking the children back to Belgium without their mothers would be “psychologically disastrous.” Bringing them all back together, even assuming the mothers go straight to prison, would be easier to manage, Loots concluded.

The mothers say they want to return, but they are ready to stay behind in Syria if that’s the cost of getting their children back to Belgium and safety.

“I have no problem with that,” Abouallal said. “I just want my children to have a secure life, and have a normal life, and that they don’t punish them for the mistakes we’ve made.”

Fatiha sucked in her breath, then dabbed a tear, as her daughter described conditions in their new camp.

“Try to keep them busy,” Fatiha urged her daughter. “Tell them a story.”

“I love you,” the grandmother told them all, before she hung up the phone and slumped into her couch.

Source: Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State

The English Voice of ISIS Comes Out of the Shadows

The Canadian connection. No rush for consular assistance:

More than four years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appealed to the public to help identify the narrator in one of the Islamic State’s best-known videos, showing captured Syrian soldiers digging their own graves and then being shot in the head.

Speaking fluent English with a North American accent, the man would go on to narrate countless other videos and radio broadcasts by the Islamic State, serving as the terrorist group’s faceless evangelist to Americans and other English speakers seeking to learn about its toxic ideology.

Now a 35-year-old Canadian citizen, who studied at a college in Toronto and once worked in information technology at a company contracted by IBM, says he is the anonymous narrator.

That man, Mohammed Khalifa captured in Syria last month by an American-backed militia, spoke in his first interview about being the voice of the 2014 video, known as “Flames of War.” He described himself as a rank-and-file employee of the Islamic State’s Ministry of Media, the unit responsible for publicizing such brutal footage as the beheading of the American journalist James Foley and the burning of a Jordanian pilot.

“No, I don’t regret it,” Mr. Khalifa said from a prison in northeastern Syria. “I was asked the same thing by my interrogators, and I told them the same thing.”

A thin, diminutive man who occasionally broke into a grin during the hourslong conversation with The New York Times, Mr. Khalifa said he immigrated as a child from Saudi Arabia to Toronto, where he learned to speak much like a native-born Canadian. He said he had studied computer systems technology and worked for a contracting company before leaving for Syria — drawn to the battlefield by watching YouTube.

Terrorism experts say it is hard to overstate the role his effortless English narration played in bringing the terrorist group’s propaganda to English speakers and luring some of them to its cause.

Mr. Khalifa has admitted to narrating “Flames of War,” a 2014 propaganda video showing the execution of Syrian prisoners.CreditSITE Intelligence Group

“His voice is the most recognizable English-speaking voice to have ever appeared in Islamic State propaganda,” said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

To verify Mr. Khalifa’s claim, The Times asked three audio-forensic experts to compare the anonymous voice on the “Flames of War” video with a televised statement by Mr. Khalifa aired in Syria shortly after his capture. Though such analyses are not foolproof, all three experts concluded it was highly likely that Mr. Khalifa was the narrator.

It is “134 times more likely that the unknown speaker” is Mr. Khalifa than someone else, Catalin Grigoras and Jeff M. Smith wrote in a report prepared for The Times. Both are forensic audio specialists at the University of Colorado’s National Center for Media Forensics.

Robert C. Maher, a voice recognition expert at Montana State University in Bozeman, created a spectrogram comparing the pronunciation of specific words in the two audio clips, concluding that “the speech tone, pitch, cadence and pronunciation is the same in these examples.”

Later, a U.S. official briefed on the matter confirmed to The Times that Mr. Khalifa was indeed the narrator.

The release of the “Flames of War” video on Sept. 19, 2014, marked a turning point for ISIS, coming less than three months after the founding of the group’s caliphate. Until then, the group had published shorter, less ambitious videos.

Filmed in part by an ISIS fighter equipped with a GoPro camera, the 55-minute video was the first to create an immersive experience, showing a soldier digging a trench before an operation, conducting surveillance and then engaging and overrunning the enemy. Because it was narrated in English, it became a touchstone for recruits from Australia, Britain and North America, according to Mr. Winter.

For Mr. Khalifa it was the beginning of a prolific career. The sum of his narration work — believed to include dozens of audio and video clips — serves as a sampling of the Islamic State’s most influential English-language propaganda.

“He is a symbol — the voice coming out of ISIS, speaking to the English-speaking world, for the better part of the last four to five years,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a prominent researcher in Toronto who studies radicalization in Canada.

Mr. Khalifa is now among hundreds of ISIS fighters from approximately 50 countries who are locked in prisons in northern Syria. Thousands of their wives and children are being held in detention camps, free to move among the tents but unable to leave. Mr. Khalifa said he had married in the caliphate and had two children, though it was unclear where they were now.

Canada is one of many countries that have been reluctant to take back their citizens, worried that battlefield evidence may be deemed inadmissible in court, making it difficult to secure prosecutions.

A month after his capture, Mr. Khalifa’s future was uncertain. He said he had not received a visit from Canadian authorities or been offered consular help. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police declined to comment on his detention, as did the Canadian foreign ministry. The F.B.I. also declined to comment.

Mr. Amarasingam, the Toronto researcher, was among the first to take an interest in the unnamed narrator’s possible Canadian connection, after noticing the distinct accent of the speaker in an ISIS video boasting about the 2015 attacks in Paris. “I thought, this guy sounds like people I grew up with,” Mr. Amarasingam said.

Later, on a research trip to Syria, Mr. Amarasingam and the journalist Stewart Bell were given access to a Canadian fighter captured nine months ago. The combatant, Muhammed Ali, said he had met and befriended the narrator, describing him as a Canadian of African descent who used the nom de guerre Abu Ridwan.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Ali agreed to listen to an audio recording of the recently captured Mr. Khalifa. “That’s him,” he exclaimed. Mr. Ali said Mr. Khalifa’s identity as the narrator was not widely known in the caliphate. “That’s not something he shares,” Mr. Ali said. “But once you speak to him, it’s obvious.”

In a two-minute televised statement after being captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mr. Khalifa identified himself as an ISIS fighter and gave his name as Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed, which follows the Arab naming convention of his first name followed by his father’s and grandfather’s names. He admitted to attacking the local Kurdish militia but made no mention of his role as the narrator.

The brief statement was enough for analysts to recognize the voice as that of the narrator, though officials with the militia group said Mr. Khalifa initially denied his role.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Khalifa spoke in the presence of two Kurdish prison officials, who recorded the exchange but did not interfere. He clarified that his legal name was Mohammed Khalifa, a detail confirmed by Mr. Amarasingam, who has been in touch with one of his childhood friends in Canada. Mr. Khalifa downplayed his significance in the Islamic State and insisted that he had not appeared in any execution videos beyond providing the voice-over narration, a claim that could not be immediately verified since most executioners wore masks.

He said he was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to parents of Ethiopian descent, earned a diploma in computer systems technology from Seneca College in Toronto and led an unremarkable work life as an information technology specialist, including for Kelly Services, an IBM contractor. IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reached by phone, Kelly Services confirmed that a Mohammed Khalifa was contracted by the company from May 2009 to April 2010 in Markham, Ontario. Seneca College declined to comment.

By 2013, Mr. Khalifa was listening to online lectures by the Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. He said they convinced him of the necessity of jihad. But it was a YouTube video, not unlike the ones he would later narrate, that helped him make the leap. It showed a group of British fighters speaking English on the front line in Syria, he said, giving him the sense that he could fit in.

Mr. Khalifa said he crossed into Syria in 2013 and initially joined the Muhajireen wal Ansar Brigade led by Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian militant who would become the Islamic State’s minister of war. The brigade pledged allegiance to ISIS in late 2013, and before the caliphate was declared in 2014, Mr. Khalifa said he had already begun working for the group’s media ministry, among the most crucial organs of the terrorist state.

He said he was initially employed as a translator, helping render Arabic copy into English, before being asked to work as a narrator. Asked which videos he worked on, he initially demurred, before quietly answering, “Like ‘Flames of War.’”

The media unit, he said, was led by Abu Muhammad al-Furqan, an Iraqi confidante of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The media chief, killed in an airstrike in 2016, was intimately involved in vetting the group’s work, reviewing scripts and requesting edits, Mr. Khalifa said.

The chief insisted that the execution videos feature a diversity of killers, so no single participant rose in prominence above others. A camera team roamed the caliphate scouting for the ideal executioners, Mr. Khalifa said. They were especially keen to find people from different nationalities to underscore the group’s global reach.

“The intention was to not make anyone into a celebrity,” Mr. Khalifa said.

The team staged the executions, capturing the scene using still cameras, GoPros and drones, and then delivered the raw footage on an SD card to the media unit’s office, inside a villa on the Euphrates 12 miles outside Raqqa, Syria.

There, he said, an editing team pored over the footage, storyboarding the narrative arc and adding sound effects and narration.

Mr. Khalifa claimed that he had had no role in filming or carrying out the scenes he narrated, which included deploying underwater cameras to capture the staged drowning of prisoners.

“I was just the voice,” Mr. Khalifa said, insisting that his work was confined to the studio.

He said he was chosen for that role by an Australian supervisor who went by the name of Abu Abdullah.

“He would give me a text, like a script, and I would review it for mistakes, and then we would record,” he said. “He would then review it and see if there was anything that he would like me to place emphasis on.”

At first, Mr. Khalifa said, the audio was recorded in a professional studio, with walls made of foam to absorb ambient sound. They used the software Magix Samplitude to edit the sound, and the finished productions were broadcast through a portable satellite dish.

But that all changed with American airstrikes in late 2014, Mr. Khalifa said. They had to relocate to urban centers starting with Raqqa, moving from house to house, aware that the proximity to civilians helped protect them.

As the Islamic State’s territory shrank, the media team was pushed out of Raqqa, but remained active, carrying the satellite dish with them, he said. They worried that the dish might give them away, but they continued transmitting nonetheless. In the final weeks before his capture, Mr. Khalifa estimated, there were at least 20 media operatives in the group’s last pocket in Syria, which has since been reduced to a tiny patch of land.

“Guys I knew agreed to work out of their homes,” he said. “They still took the risk.”

By the time he was apprehended last month, Mr. Khalifa said he had stopped working for the media unit and had picked up a Kalashnikov rifle to defend the Islamic State. Officials with the Syrian Democratic Forces said he had tried to attack their position. Mr. Khalifa said he had approached a villa, entering from below while soldiers were on an upper floor.

After a protracted gunfight, he said, he was bleeding and alone. The videos he had narrated were full of bravado, his voice representing a group that had vowed never to give up. But after more than six defiant years in the battle zone, Mr. Khalifa said, he did something that he never thought possible.

“I was exhausted. My ammo was gone,” he said. “They kept calling on me to surrender, and so I threw down my weapon.”

Gurski: What if Canada stopped preventing violent extremism or countering violent extremism: would it make a difference?

My friend Phil Gurski asks some needed questions.

While attending a briefing by the Montreal-based Centre de prévention de la radicalisation menant à la violence, the glossiness of their material made me wonder whether this was more of a communications initiative than substance:

We in Canada have terrorism on the brain. On any given day, there’s at least one, and, unfortunately, usually far more than one, terrorist act somewhere  on this planet. Death and destruction executed by idiots who see the use of violence as God’s will or a legitimate way to effect change in favour of one cause or another will always be with us.

When it comes to Canada, however, there is a disproportionate fear of terrorism here at home. Statistics do not support this fear: far from it actually. And yet the conviction that terrorism is a larger threat than it really is can and does affect Canadians’ views on matters ranging from immigration to foreign policy. One other area is the creation of a national program to prevent the radicalization to violence that is the sine qua non of terrorism.

My challenge is: do we need to spend this money on a problem that is far smaller than perceived?  In at least one case, a centre that seeks to prevent radicalization  is unsure whether some of its funding will continue.  Would we miss it if these programs disappeared?

Allow me to explain. According to StatsCan, in 2017 there were 163 gang-related murders in Canada (out of a total of 660 total homicides or a little less than one quarter). To combat gangs and help prevent youth from joining, the National Crime Prevention Centre at Public Safety Canada (PSC) spent a little under $31-million over an unspecified five-year period.

Strikingly, PSC is allotting slightly more money ($35-million) over an identical time period for countering violent extremism (CVE). So, how many people were killed by violent extremists (i.e. terrorists) in Canada in 2017? Zero. Or six if you want to label the shooting at a mosque in Québec City a terrorist act (or at minimum an act of hate, which I will accept may be an example of violent extremism, unlike garden variety murder). How many terrorism-related deaths in 2016? Zero (vs. 141 gang-related). How many in 2015? Zero (versus 98 gang-related). Do you see the pattern here? Sure we can add in the so-called “foreign fighters” but the numbers are still minimal.

I submit to you that if the Canadian government were to stop ALL funding for CVE tomorrow, not only would Canadians not notice anything, but it is far from clear that the sudden lack of research and prevention would lead to a single successful radicalization-to-violence process and possible terrorism. Yes, a small number of Canadians will always adopt violent extremist ideas and an even smaller number will go on to commit an act of terrorism here or outside Canada. Some attacks will be stopped thanks to the efforts of CSIS, the RCMP, and their partners, by the way.

I am starting to think that the money and focus on violent radicalization and its prevention is unnecessary, in part because the problem is too small to warrant special attention. No, I do not deny the impact of successful attacks: in fact, the belief that we needed to do something and do it now stemmed to a large extent from the events of October 2014, when two home-grown Islamist terrorists killed two military officers two days apart just outside Montreal and right in the centre of Ottawa. There is nothing like having a gunman firing wildly down the hall from where the prime minister was at a caucus meeting in Centre Block to get governments to develop new programs.

It is also far from clear that any of the programs will make any difference in large part because measuring the effectiveness of such efforts is devilishly difficult. I concede that they are most likely not making matters worse, but it is next to impossible to determine that any one program is preventing any one person from thinking terrorism is a good idea.

Please note that I am not advocating ignoring this issue, as tiny as it is. The way I see it, our response in Canada should be two-fold. At one end, it is the job of CSIS and the RCMP to identify, investigate, and neutralize those seeking to plan and execute attacks. At the other end, I am confident that already existing programs in school and civil society that seek to turn people away from gangs and other dangerous anti-social acts can be easily tweaked to deal with the rare cases of violent radicalization. This does not need special, tailor-made funding or resources. In countries where this scourge is several orders of magnitude larger, there probably is a need for a special effort.

I am fairly certain that my position will make me enemies, especially among those parties with vested interests in CVE funding. But as a taxpayer, I want my government to be involved where it needs to be and not try to be all things to all people. Developing expensive programs for all but non-existent problems makes little sense to me.

Source: What if Canada stopped preventing violent extremism or countering violent extremism: would it make a difference?

Gurski: Linking immigration and terrorism is wrong, in Canada and elsewhere

Good column by Gurski:

I never knew my maternal grandfather. He emigrated to Canada in the early part of the 20th century from western Ukraine (or eastern Poland, the details on that are fuzzy) and settled in Montreal where he worked at the CPR’s Angus workshops, along with a great many other immigrants, I imagine. He married and had four children, including my mother, and toughed it out during the Great Depression. He died in the mid-1940s.

I seldom think of him but his memory came back to me last week when I read of a new documentary, That Never Happened, by Saskatoon native Ryan Boyko, which premiered at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema among other venues. The film deals with the internment of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants in camps in remote areas of Canada from 1914-1920. These men were seen as citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with which we were at war, and hence they were viewed as enemies of the state. My grandfather is believed to have been one of those internees at the Spirit Lake detention site in northern Quebec (I have a copy of my grandfather’s passport which says he was tied to the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

The round-up of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants, and the monitoring of tens of thousands more, was the product of fear: fear of the other. In fairness, I suppose, Canada was at war and those were different times, but fear is still largely irrational and often unjustified. Nor has it gone away – as there are still those who paint immigrants as threats today.

To see this, we do not have to cast our eyes even as far as the shameful depiction by U.S. President Donald Trump of the thousands of desperate migrants making their way through Central America to the southern states as “terrorists and criminals.” An example closer to home is La Meute (the “Wolfpack”), a racist Francophone anti-immigrant group, doing the same thing in Quebec regarding the irregular migrants seeking to leave an increasingly unstable U.S. and showing up at Canada’s border .

Whatever you think of people on the move – and there are valid concerns over how the government is dealing with, and should deal with, these migrants – what is quite clear is that they present a very low to non-existent national security threat. Yes, it is always possible that there are unsavoury characters in the mix who may engage in criminal activities in Canada, but shrill fear-mongering about a wave of terrorists seeking to sow mayhem in our cities is unsubstantiated.

U.S. intelligence agencies, for instance, have stated publicly that Trump’s conviction that ISIL is using the cover of refugee flows to infiltrate the U.S. is false. In other words, the president’s own intelligence services have taken the rare step to openly tell Americans that there is no “there” there, despite Trump’s demagoguery.

I am neither naïve nor ignorant of the real terrorist threat, having spent 15 years with CSIS as a strategic terrorism analyst and having written four books on the topic. It is always possible that malefactors use the immigration system to enter Canada – and we have had examples in the recent past. At the same time, however, there is simply no evidence that this represents a significant risk for our country. Our intelligence and other government organizations are on top of this, and they will advise the proper authorities when they come across solid information about a real risk so that action can be taken.

The rest of us – yes, that includes members of La Meute and other anti-immigrant and Islamophobic groups – need to start trusting in those agencies and stop irrationally hitting the panic button on immigration. Canada needs more people for its economic and social development and immigration is one way to get those people. Immigration is a strength, not a weakness.

Besides, no one should have to endure what my grandfather did. No one.

Source: Gurski: Linking immigration and terrorism is wrong, in Canada and elsewhere

Feds tap U.K. company to ‘redirect’ Canadians away from violent extremism online

Interesting effort to leverage UK experience and expertise in prevention:

The federal government has tapped a U.K.-based company to attempt to “redirect” Canadians at risk of radicalization to violent extremism.

The Liberal government awarded Moonshot CVE a $1.5-million grant to develop a project called “Canada Redirect,” aimed at identifying extremist content online and pushing positive counter messaging at those seeking it out.

Micah Clark, Moonshot CVE’s Canada program director, said the idea is not to take down extremist propaganda, but to connect Canadians who are accessing it with alternative content.

Picture searching for white nationalist content on YouTube, only to be offered advertisements for counter radicalization and outreach resources in your “up next” playlist.

“Taking down accounts and trying to silence extremists online is a laudable goal, in one sense, but it doesn’t work with the logic of the internet … the fact that the internet grows in its own way,” Clark told the Star Tuesday.

“And so Redirect, the idea (is to) use the … logic of the internet, use the fact that people look for everything through a search engine, and try to use that to try and benefit people that may be at risk to radicalization to violence.”

According to Public Safety Canada, the redirect method has been deployed in a dozen countries since 2015. Moonshot CVE’s program would be a first for Canada.

The first challenge, Clark said, is identifying what extremist content Canadians are searching out.

Last month, Moonshot CVE provided the Star with a snapshot of the kind of right-wing extremist content Canadians are seeking out online — but that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has identified a growing white nationalist and right-wing extremist presence online in recent years. The internet is an important tool for any extremist ideology, to disseminate propaganda, build communities, and recruit adherents.

Clark said Moonshot CVE will not be focusing on any single extremist ideology, instead trying to connect counter messaging to any vulnerable Canadians at risk of radicalization.

Source: Feds tap U.K. company to ‘redirect’ Canadians away from violent extremism online

Chris Selley: Ontario’s no-health care-for-terrorists bill is nonsense at its best

Another good column by Selley on the Ontario Conservatives virtue signalling:

The Ontario government wants to make convicted terrorists ineligible for licences to drive, hunt and fish, for public health insurance, for housing and income assistance, for student loans, and to parent their own children. It wants to do this because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is soft on terrorism — specifically on the question of Canadians returning home after fighting for ISIL.

“I am disgusted that the federal government is not dealing with this,” Progressive Conservative MPP Dave Smith told reporters this week. “What we’re doing is we are taking away privileges from criminals.”

“If you leave Canada to go fight for ISIS, you should not be welcomed back with open arms,” Premier Doug Ford tweeted. “Since Justin Trudeau doesn’t seem to take this seriously, (Smith) is taking action to send a message that there are consequences for leaving Ontario to commit indefensible crimes.”

Sometimes governments come up with laws that they think will make their jurisdiction a better place, and they advance them in their legislature and in the media in good faith. And sometimes they come up with laws the primary purpose of which is to generate opposition to those laws, which they can then use to attack the opponents. The federal Conservatives’ Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, and the accompanying “snitch line” announced during the 2015 election campaign, was a good example of the latter. To question its necessity or wisdom or choice of wording was to be accused of sanctioning everything from child marriage to polygamy to female genital mutilation.

The Ontario Tories’ Bill 46, more soberly titled the Terrorist Activities Sanctions Act, certainly has great potential as the second kind of legislation: Have fun out there arguing on behalf of a terrorist’s right to health care or a hunting licence or to raise his kids unmolested. (Bill 46 would deem any such children in need of protection under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.) But let’s give Smith and Ford the benefit of the doubt and assume they also think this is good public policy.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, or any other lawyer, could tell them that their public policy is almost certain to be torn to shreds in the courts, at great and pointless public expense. As it stands even the most vile criminals, if released, are entitled to public health insurance; denying it to one class of criminals as explicit punishment for violating a section of the Criminal Code would attract no end of legal opposition. It could be found to violate the Constitution, which unambiguously makes criminal law the federal government’s jurisdiction. It could be found to violate Section 7 of the Charter, which enshrines the “right to life, liberty and security of the person”; or Section 12, the protection against cruel and unusual punishment; or even Section 6, which guarantees the right “to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province,” and which isn’t vulnerable to the notwithstanding clause. Legal arguments aside, the federal government could simply withhold transfers until Ontario started providing health care to all its citizens again.

Howard Anglin, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, doesn’t buy all the legal arguments being made against Bill 46. But he thinks Canadian courts might well buy many of them. “I would bet pretty heavily that the Canadian courts would find that the province is violating a right to health care for these individuals,” he says. “The health care component is probably dead in the water.” As, he argues, is the bit about taking away people’s kids. “That’s not going to fly,” he says, arguing that determination requires a “quintessentially individualized analysis.”

There are logical arguments the government might make for some of these measures. Cars and trucks being popular tools for terrorists nowadays, perhaps we’d rather ISIL veterans not be authorized to drive them. We certainly wouldn’t want to license them to own firearms, let alone hunt with them. But the government isn’t making those arguments. It’s making no bones about the fact it simply wants to punish these people for a criminal act, which is not its bailiwick — points for honesty, but it makes it all the more likely the courts will torpedo it.

It’s entirely understandable that people are appalled by the idea of Canadians returning home after committing atrocities in Syria and not face consequences. Anything Canada can do to bring these people to justice, while respecting constitutional rights and the rule of law, it should do. But that only highlights the central absurdity of Bill 46: It doesn’t even apply unless someone is already convicted of a terrorism offence under the Criminal Code, which is precisely what Ford’s government complains isn’t happening.

The convicted would (or certainly should) face many stringent post-release conditions that actually make sense. Neither denying them “free” treatment for a communicable disease nor prohibiting them from fishing makes any sense on any level except as arbitrary, bloody-minded and very likely counterproductive retribution that it’s not in the province’s power to mete out in the first place. This bill is a turkey, and someone with a hunting license ought to kill it.

Source: Chris Selley: Ontario’s no-health care-for-terrorists bill is nonsense at its best