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Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says Canadians who travel to war zones to join “vicious” terrorist groups must accept the consequences of their decision and that the lives of Canadian consular officials will not be put in danger to help them if they want to leave.

Mr. Goodale made the comments on Parliament Hill on Tuesday in response to questions about the government’s handling of Canadians who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State and were captured by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The minister said consular officials will try to help Canadians who ask for assistance abroad, but noted that their abilities are limited in war zones such as Syria, where Canada has no diplomatic presence.

“When people voluntarily leave Canada to go into a war zone and associate themselves in some way one way or another with a vicious terrorist organization, the consequences of that have to be clearly understood,” Mr. Goodale told reporters.

“You’ve got to recognize the dangers and the risks that are imposed upon consular officials.”

Global Affairs Canada said it is aware of Canadian citizens detained in Syria, but declined to say how many are held by the Kurds.

“The government of Canada is engaged in these cases and is providing assistance, to the limited extent possible. Canadian diplomats have established a communications channel with local Kurdish authorities in order to verify the whereabouts and well-being of Canadian citizens,” said Global Affairs spokesperson Philip Hannan in a statement.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said he knows of 13 Canadians – three men, three women and seven children – currently detained by the Kurds in Syria. He said Canadian consular officials’ approach to their cases has been “hands off, for the most part.”

Mr. Amarasingam recently traveled to Syria with Global News, where he met one of those detainees – 28-year-old Muhammad Ali, who left Toronto in 2014 to join the Islamic State. He met Mr. Ali in a Kurdish-run prison, where the detainee said no Canadian officials had visited him since the Kurds captured him four months ago.

“He’s been interrogated by the Americans, the British and the French, but he said we were the first Canadians he’s met," Mr. Amarasingam said. “I thought the Canadians would be a bit more involved than they currently are.”

Mr. Amarasingam said Mr. Ali, who had two children with his wife in Syria, has abandoned the Islamic State and wants to come back to Canada. He described Mr. Ali as a “shell of a man” who appeared exhausted from the past four years as an Islamic State fighter. Mr. Amarasingam said Canada should repatriate Mr. Ali and his family and charge him and his wife under the country’s anti-terrorism laws.

However, efforts to get detained Canadians out of Kurdish-run detention facilities in Syria have proven difficult. A senior Canadian government source who was not authorized to speak publicly said officials from Canada’s Beirut embassy met with Kurdish authorities earlier this year in northern Iraq, where they filled out Canadian passport application forms for some of the detainees. The source did not know if the detainees ever got the passports.

Mr. Amarasingam said the Kurds are eager to hand over the 13 Canadian prisoners. However, he said Kurdish officials told him the Canadians stopped engaging in repatriation talks around May, without explanation.

Global Affairs Canada said any reports of an agreement on the repatriation of Canadians from Syria are false. It did not provide any further comment on talks with the Kurds.

The identities of the other Canadians held by the Kurds in Syria are not known. Mr. Amarasingam said a Montreal woman and her two young children, who made headlines last year when they escaped the Islamic State, are still among those held by the Kurds. Mr. Amarasingam, who declined to provide the woman’s name, said her case was among those Canadian and Kurdish officials discussed in repatriation talks.

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