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From left: teenage girls Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana walk through security at Gatwick airport before they boarded a flight to Turkey, where they allegedly intended to join the Islamic State in Syria. (Reuters)
From left: teenage girls Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana walk through security at Gatwick airport before they boarded a flight to Turkey, where they allegedly intended to join the Islamic State in Syria. (Reuters)

Canada silent on alleged CSIS links to man helping girls go to Syria Add to ...

The Canadian embassy in Jordan, where Stephen Harper posted the former head of his security detail as ambassador, is at the centre of new allegations linking Canada to a suspect arrested by Turkish authorities and accused of helping British schoolgirls join Islamic State militants in Syria.

Mr. Harper appointed Bruno Saccomani, a former RCMP officer, instead of a career diplomat to the job of envoy to Jordan in 2013. His previous job was as head of the Prime Minister’s Protection Detail.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, remained silent Friday as Turkey’s media published a second day of stories, citing anonymous Turkish security sources, that purport to sketch out Canada’s connection to a man now being held by Ankara on suspicion of smuggling three London girls into Syria last month.

The picture that emerges is of a human smuggler who was allegedly trying to trade information about people he ferried to Syria to a contact at the Canadian embassy in Jordan in exchange for help immigrating to Canada. Turkish media identified him as Mohammed al-Rashed.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, whose government is under severe pressure to restrict the flow of jihadists through Turkey to Islamic State forces in Syria, is now saying the suspect is a Syrian citizen and is sticking to his allegation this man was in the employ of a foreign intelligence service from a country in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State extremists. He still won’t name the country in question but says it’s not the United States or a nation in the European Union.

Turkish media, citing security sources, continue to report that the foreign agency in question is the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The Canadian government, which has not categorically denied a link to the suspect and said only that he’s not a Canadian citizen or CSIS employee, refused to address the latest reports from Turkey.

“I have no further comments to add beyond [Thursday’s] statement,” Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said.

A Haber, a pro-government news network based in Istanbul, released a video allegedly showing the suspect in the act of ferrying Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, to Syria last month. The three British girls are believed to have arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport in mid-February.

The footage, apparently recorded by the suspect using a hidden camera, shows the Syrian greeting the girls in Gaziantep as they leave a taxicab. According to Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper, the suspect asks for the girls’ names, instructs them to take their baggage and not to leave anything behind. He informs the girls that they will be in Syria within one hour.

The footage, captured by a hidden camera by Mr. al-Rashed, recorded in Gaziantep, a Turkish province bordering with Syria, shows Mr. al-Rashed welcoming the girls as they exit a taxicab. He tells them they will be in Syria “within an hour,” as they carry their bags to another vehicle and adds that he will not go with them.

The A Haber report, recounted in Turkey’s Sabah newspaper, says the suspect is a 28-year-old dentist who fled the civil war in Syria for Jordan and tried to claim refugee status in another country before attracting the interest of the Canadian embassy in Jordan.

The Turkish network, citing security sources, said the suspect contacted a Canadian embassy official in Jordan called “Matt.” It also reported that Turkish authorities believe Matt was in fact a British spy.

The Istanbul-based Star newspaper published what it said were excerpts from Mr. al-Rashed’s interrogation by Turkish security services.

The newspaper said he told police he was working for Canadian intelligence and hoped to win Canadian citizenship by helping Canada. He said he contacted Canadian intelligence agents at the Jordan embassy and told them on Feb. 21 how he’d smuggled the British girls to Syria.

The Star reported documents containing alleged correspondence with CSIS were discovered on Mr. al-Rashed’s computer, as were photographs of the passports of 20 people, including the three British schoolgirls, and surreptitious recordings of would-be jihadists being ferried to Syria.

Former senior CSIS agent Ray Boisvert said he imagines CSIS is investigating right now to determine whether there are Canadian links. “I think CSIS is looking into it. That is the only thing I can assume,” he said, adding he has no inside knowledge on this file.

“They may not be saying much right now because sometimes operations can run pretty deep,” Mr. Boisvert said. “This thing could be five times removed from someone under CSIS direction.”

He said, however, that collecting relevant intelligence is exactly what CSIS is supposed to do.

“If CSIS is involved in this, that is the new reality. That is what they should be doing. They should be running sources and agents in parts of the world where there are Canadian interests at work.”

Under Canadian law, CSIS plays a gatekeeper function in reviewing the files of thousands of prospective immigrants and would-be citizens each year – particularly files involving people hailing from conflict zones.

CSIS officers, in Ottawa and abroad, double-check whether such individuals represent a security threat. Assessments are then forwarded to the immigration bureaucracy. On several occasions, the spy service has been publicly accused of squeezing intelligence information from would-be immigrants – by allegedly holding out favourable recommendation to immigration authorities as a reward.

For example, a Kurdish man hailing from Turkey formally complained about such practices to a United Nations body last year, alleging that in the 1990s CSIS was offering immigration favours in return for information about the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which is known as the PKK.

“CSIS told [Suleyman] Goven that if he gave them the names of PKK members from the Kurdish community in Toronto, they would recommend that [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] grant his application for permanent residence,” the 2014 complaint reads.

Mr. Goven got his status in Canada after waging a protracted legal battle complaining of “excessive delay in processing” and “pressure to act as an informer for CSIS” in several legal forums.

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