A Canada spy agency agent who once sold three British teenagers to Islamic State militants has been released from a Turkish prison, and the feds won’t say if he was transferred to Canada .
A source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Globe and Mail that the man, Mohammed al-Rashed, a Syrian smuggler for the Islamic State who was recruited to spy on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has been released. from jail on August 5. He had been incarcerated in Turkey since 2015 for terrorism and smuggling.
The source said Turkish authorities do not want Mr al-Rashed in their country. Their options were either to send him back to Syria, where he would likely face death due to his involvement with foreign powers and the Islamic State, or to Canada, the source said. The Globe and Mail does not identify the source, as they were not authorized to discuss national security matters involving the Canadian government. The Turkish Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. al-Rashed, whom CSIS recruited in 2013, told Turkish intelligence after his arrest in 2015 that Canada had promised him political asylum. The source said CSIS planned to reinstall him after his release in August.
Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino declined to say whether Mr al-Rashed had been granted asylum.
“For obvious reasons, we do not want elected officials to comment on the operations. I’ll leave it at that,” he said in a brief interview Thursday. “Operational questions are best put to the service.”
CSIS spokesman Brandon Champagne neither confirmed nor denied that Mr. al-Rashed is in Canada. “As you might expect, CSIS cannot comment on investigations, methodologies or activities aimed at maintaining the integrity of operations,” he said. “There are significant limits to what CSIS can confirm or deny given the need to protect sensitive intelligence techniques, methods and sources.”
A source, whom The Globe does not identify because she was not authorized to speak publicly, said CSIS has the decision-making power to bring an agent into the country if they are in danger.
Richard Kerbaj, the British author of The Secret History of the Five Eyes, a new book that tells parts of Mr. al-Rashed’s story, said it would not be surprising if Mr. al-Rashed were transferred to Canada. The Five Eyes is the name of an intelligence sharing network between Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
In his book, Mr Kerbaj writes that CSIS hid information about his recruit’s role in trafficking the three British girls from London until Mr al-Rashed was arrested by Turkish authorities. Mr al-Rashed is said to have helped the trio cross Syria after arriving in Turkey on February 17, 2015. They were aged 15 to 16 at the time.
“You always try to protect your sources and your agents and you don’t give up on them. It also confirms what al-Rashed said, as he said he was promised resettlement,” Mr Kerbaj said. “If they agreed on his relocation and carried it out, that is admirable and honourable. On the other hand, it confirms the cover-up and confirms their role.
Mr. Kerbaj said CSIS learned on February 21, 2015 of Mr. al-Rashed’s role in trafficking the girls to Syria. “Instead of immediately providing this information to UK counter-terrorism authorities, they just sat on it,” he said.
It was only after Mr. al-Rashed’s arrest in Turkey on February 28 of the same year that CSIS arranged a meeting with the head of the London Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command. At the time, British counter-terrorism police were engaged in a frantic search for the girls. Mr. Kerbaj alleges Canada knew Turkey would soon release details about the CSIS agent and wanted to get ahead of the story. He said the meeting was part of a CSIS effort to cover up and obscure the agency’s role in recruiting and managing Mr. al-Rashed.
Mr Kerbaj said Mr al-Rashed was passing intelligence to the Canadian Embassy in Jordan and that he passed on the passport details of the three schoolgirls – but only after they had already entered Syria. He said Mr. al-Rashed had also helped Canadian intelligence agents map the locations of Islamic State fighters’ homes and provided screenshots of email conversations he had with them.
In his book, Mr. Kerbaj says that CSIS sent a senior official to Ankara “to ask forgiveness for not informing the Turkish authorities that they were carrying out a counterintelligence operation on their territory”.
Opinion: Spy scandal underlines Canada’s lack of vision on espionage
CSIS declined to comment on the allegations in the book, saying the agency does not comment on “details of CSIS investigations, operational interests, methodologies or activities.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended CSIS when the book’s allegations were reported in British newspapers in late August. He said: “The fight against terrorism demands that our intelligence services continue to be flexible and creative in their approaches.
The case of the three girls, Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, 15, made headlines around the world in February 2015 after they flew to Istanbul from London. They were among more than 500 women from Western countries who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State. According to Mr Kerbaj’s book, the three teenage girls from east London “had become part of a new and rapidly growing phenomenon of young women drawn to the battlefield not for combat but rather as potential wives of jihadists”.
Their disappearance prompted a moving appeal from their families, who urged them to return home. Meanwhile, British counterintelligence was in the midst of what Mr Kerbaj called an unprecedented campaign get people to show up information on the exodus of jihadists and their supporters to Syria.
British lawyer Tasnime Akunjee, who represents the families of the former schoolgirls, recently told The Globe and Mail that Canada must investigate the events. Two of the women are believed to have died in the Islamic State war zone, he said.
He added that the third, Ms Begum, languished as a prisoner of war in a Kurdish prison camp, where she gave birth to three children, all of whom died in harsh conditions. His British citizenship was stripped of him in 2019.
With reporting by Colin Freeze and Steven Chase
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