Canada drops charges against man who claimed to be IS executioner

Shehroze Chaudhry, who featured in New York Times podcast, had been charged under terrorism hoax laws

Canadian prosecutors have dropped charges against a man who claimed to be an Islamic State executioner after he admitted fabricating his tales of violence.

In September 2020, Shehroze Chaudhry was charged under Canada’s rarely used terrorism hoax laws, which carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Prosecutors withdrew those charges on Friday, after Chaudhry admitted that his account of travelling to Syria was fictitious. His trial was due to begin in February.

Chaudhry had previously claimed he had travelled to the country to join IS, took up the name Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi and worked as an executioner for the group’s religious police.

When the Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP) announced the hoax charges last year, counter-terrorism experts had expressed scepticism about the strategy – pointing out it was difficult to prove Chaudhry had not been in Syria.

But the terms of the deal reached last week included an agreed statement of facts that the 26-year-old never travelled aboard.

“Mr Chaudhry has never entered Syria nor participated in Isis operations anywhere in the world,” it read. Instead of taking up arms, he had remained in an Ontario City, working at his parents’ restaurant.

In 2016, Chaudhry said on social media he had conducted at least two executions on the group’s behalf. His claims, which were investigated by the RCMP in 2017, became the focal point of Caliphate, a popular New York Times podcast.

Episodes of the show, which portrayed him as a self-professed executioner living freely in Canada, kicked off a political firestorm in the country, with opposition lawmakers demanding Justin Trudeau’s government account for why Chaudhry had not been charged and accusing the prime minister of taking a lax approach to public safety.

In the months since, the New York Times has admitted the podcast contained numerous errors and questionable editorial decisions.

The statement of facts presented also said that the host of Caliphate, Rukmini Callimachi, encouraged Chaudhry to speak about the alleged acts of violence even after he showed wariness.

“At times during the podcast, Ms Callimachi expressly encouraged Mr Chaudhry to discuss violent acts,” it said. “When Mr Chaudhry expressed reluctance to do so, she responded, ‘You need to talk about the killings.’”

The journalist denies making the comment, according to the New York Times.

Under the terms of his agreement with prosecutors, Chaudhry has been required to post a peace bond for C$10,000 (£5,890).

In addition to his admission and bond, he must remain in Ontario for the next year and live with his parents. He must also continue attending counselling and cannot own any weapons.

Chaudhry’s stories were “mistakes borne out of immaturity – not sinister intent – and certainly not criminal intent,” his lawyer, Nader Hasan, said. Hasan pointed to the “tremendous strides” his client had made in the last two years, including holding a steady job and graduating from university.

Contributor

Leyland Cecco in Toronto

The GuardianTramp

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