A Calgary man pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in an Alberta court on Thursday where he admitted to fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and kidnapping “opposition fighters” during a year-long period.
Hussein Sobhe Borhot, 36, pleaded guilty to participating in the activity of a terrorist group outside Canada and committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization.
The case is one of only a handful in which prosecutors have arrested and charged a Canadian who is alleged to have joined a violent extremist group overseas.
Mr. Borhot travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2013, before sneaking over the border into Syria with the help of a Turkish soldier, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench heard. He then enlisted with the Islamic State group and fought under its banner until leaving in June, 2014.
The RCMP’s investigation of the case, which took place over seven years, included two undercover operations between 2016 and 2020 and help from the FBI and United States Department of Defense.
An agreed upon statement of facts presented in court said an undercover officer befriended Mr. Borhot at a mosque, engaging in conversation about work, politics and religion. In an effort to “gain trust,” the officer later told him that he supported efforts by religious fundamentalists in his home country. Eventually, Mr. Borhot spoke about being an Islamic State fighter.
Mr. Borhot described training with the extremist organization, shooting at opposing fighters in Syria and said “many died” during the fights. He also told the officer, according to the RCMP, that he originally intended to become a suicide bomber but changed his mind.
In March, 2020, the second sting began where the undercover officer set up an account to play the first-person shooter game Call of Duty with Mr. Borhot, who described the game as “good training.” In later conversations, RCMP said Mr. Borhot told the officer “he would not kill anyone who was not trying to kill him” but “loved shooting and jihad” and would return if possible.
RCMP said Mr. Borhot also spoke about being directed to go to an unnamed village to capture what he believed were members of the Free Syrian Army. He was told shortly after by an Islamic State leader to return one of the captives because they were deemed “innocent.”
It was on that trip that Mr. Borhot was kidnapped but later released during a prisoner exchange.
When asked by Justice David Labrenz whether the agreed upon statement of facts were correct, Mr. Borhot said they were but also said: “I didn’t know better.”
His lawyer said outside court that Mr. Borhot wanted to do the right thing.
“He wants to take responsibility for what happened,” Rame Katrib said. “He’s grown a lot since then. What he did was terrible. He acknowledges he did some heinous and terrible things and he’s here to be punished.’’
The case will return to court on May 26 for sentencing.
Mr. Borhot’s cousin, Jamal Borhot, is also accused of joining the Islamic State and faces three counts of participating in terrorist group activity.
He had a trial date scheduled for October, but is now searching for a new lawyer. He is set to return to court on May 13.
A 2018 report from Public Safety Canada said it was aware of 190 extremists with ties to Canada abroad, including in Syria and Iraq. The report said there were another 60 people suspected of extremist activities abroad who had returned to Canada, with a relatively small number of them having been to Turkey, Iraq or Syria.
With files from The Canadian Press
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