A Calgary man is facing terrorism charges over allegations that he travelled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State – one of only a handful of cases in which prosecutors here have arrested and charged a Canadian who is alleged to have joined a violent extremist group overseas.
Hussein Sobhe Borhot, 34, was arrested in Calgary and charged with three counts of participating in the activity of a terrorist group and one count of committing an offence on behalf of a terrorist group. He was in custody and expected to appear in court on Friday.
The RCMP alleged in a news release that Mr. Borhot was in Syria between May, 2013, and June, 2014, where he enlisted with the Islamic State group and received training. He is also alleged to have participated in a kidnapping, though the force did not release any further details.
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.
Mr. Borhot’s name surfaced several years ago when thousands of documents from the Islamic State were leaked to the Syria-based news outlet Zaman al-Wasl and Sky News in Britain. At the time, CBC News reported that one of those documents was a personal file for a man from Calgary named Hussein Borhot.
Sobhe Borhot, Mr. Borhot’s father, told The Globe and Mail that his son was living in his own Calgary home at the time of his arrest, with four children under the age of 10, including twin toddlers.
The elder Mr. Borhot said his son worked driving a local school bus and doing a painting job at Calgary’s airport, something he said wouldn’t have been allowed to happen if he was the terrorist described by police.
“Why did they allow him to drive a school bus with children? ... There’s something not right in the system.” he said. “Why [arrest him] now?”
He said he was too busy to talk further and hung up before he could be asked questions about his son’s time in the Middle East and the allegations against him.
Pamela Deadmarsh, a spokeswoman with Southland Transportation Ltd., said a Hussein Borhot worked as a bus driver in Calgary for less than a month in 2014. Calgary airport spokesman Reid Fiest said Wednesday that investigators had not contacted the facility in connection with the case.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a Queen’s University professor who has tracked extremists with links to Canada, said he had previously talked to people in Calgary who know Mr. Borhot.
“He basically came back to Canada, never told anybody that he went or anything like that, and basically just moved on with life,” Prof. Amarasingam said.
“Everyone who knows him now basically says that he’s not radicalized. He just moved on with his life and got back into regular life in Canada.”
Prof. Amarasingam pointed out that Mr. Borhot was in Syria at a time just before the Islamic State declared a caliphate in the region, and before the group’s atrocities against Yazidis.
He said such charges are rare in Canada in part because it is difficult to obtain evidence from Syria that could support a conviction here. He said those challenges have made Ottawa reluctant to repatriate Canadians who’ve travelled abroad to join extremist groups, fearing they would be allowed to walk free after they arrive.
“It’s very, very hard to charge these individuals with terrorism and actually win in court,” he said.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was federal defence minister when Canadian troops were deployed to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, said the arrest was significant.
“It’s important that law enforcement send a message that there is no immunity for Canadians who go abroad to commit acts of terrorism, to victimize the innocent and, in some cases, to also attack Canadian military personnel,” he said.
With reports from Colin Freeze in Toronto and The Canadian Press
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