A high-profile Canadian member of the so-called Islamic State has been caught while attempting to return to Canada, Global News has confirmed.
Muhammad Ali, 28, who left Toronto in 2014 to join ISIS, was captured by Kurdish forces as he tried to flee from Syria to Turkey.
Global News interviewed Ali at a makeshift prison where he is being held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, the military alliance that controls northeast Syria.
The former Ryerson University student, who went by Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, was taken into custody four months ago in Ras al-Ayn, on the Turkish border.
At the time, he was with his Canadian wife, former Vancouver resident Rida Jabbar, and their two children, both born in Syria.
His family is being detained at a camp not far from the prison where Kurdish, American and British officials have been interrogating Ali.
His capture is significant because, aside from serving as a sniper, Ali used social media to encourage others to join ISIS and conduct terrorist attacks.
Ali’s case has placed the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a difficult position. Kurdish officials want to hand Ali and a dozen other Canadians over to Ottawa.
However, with the RCMP struggling to bring charges against Canadians who have taken part in overseas terror groups, there is no guarantee Ali would face arrest upon his return.
Kurdish authorities said they were holding almost 900 foreign ISIS fighters, as well as 500 wives and more than 1,000 children, and want governments to take back those that are their citizens.
Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Self-Administration of North Syria told Global News in an interview in Qamlishi, a city in northern Syria that 10 Canadians are currently being held.
“So far we have three ISIS fighters, two women and five children. In total there are 10 Canadian citizens,” Omar said. “The fighters are in prisons and the women and children are in the camps.”
Those numbers do not include Ali’s family.
Omar said Kurdish officials met months ago with Canadian diplomats in northern Iraq.
“There was a dialogue with the Canadian government via the Canadian consulate in Beirut,” he said. “We had a meeting in Sulaymaniyah and there was some good steps and we filled application forms and then suddenly the Canadian government stopped this process and we don’t know why.”
Canada’s foreign affairs department would not say how many Canadians were in SDF custody. “Global Affairs Canada is aware that Canadian citizens are being detained in Syria,” a spokeswoman said.
The government “is engaged in these cases and is providing assistance, to the extent possible,” said spokesperson Amy Mills. “Given the unpredictable security situation, the government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance in all parts of Syria is severely limited.”
The Integrated National Security Enforcement Team has been investigating Ali but he has not been charged. Canadian officials have not spoken to him since he was apprehended.