A man facing trial in Lebanon for being an alleged ISIL fighter said he wanted to move to Canada to be with his Canadian wife but was denied a visa — so he went to Syria instead.
Rather than remaining in Toronto, his wife then joined him in Raqqah, ISIL’s central city during its war in Syria and Iraq, where she had three children, who are now with her in a Syrian refugee camp, according to a report of the man’s testimony.
The story of how Qasim Al-Muzaqzaq came to be on trial in Beirut, and his wife’s journey from Toronto to a refugee camp as an ISIL bride, was told during questioning by the head of the Lebanese Military Tribunal, according to a report in an Arabic newspaper.
It started when Al-Muzaqzaq met and fell in love with a Canadian woman of Somali origin online and wanted to join her in Canada, but was unable to obtain a visa to travel to Canada, he said. The report of his testimony, written by a Beirut correspondent of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, an international newspaper headquartered in London, was published Nov. 11. Portions were translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and some translated by the National Post. The testimony has not been independently verified.
Al-Muzaqzaq had a lawyer present during his testimony, the report said.
In order to be together, Al-Muzaqzaq’s wife flew to Lebanon, where she was taken to his parents’ home in Tripoli, Lebanon, where they were married, he said. Specific dates were not given.
When his wife, who was not named in the report, was five months pregnant, they decided she should return to Canada to give birth and then he would try again to immigrate, this time as a spouse and father of a Canadian, the report said.
Friends told him it would be easier to get a visa in Turkey than in Libya, so he went to apply at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara. His request was again turned down, he said.
While in a hotel in Turkey, he was identified as an Arabic speaker and approached by a recruiter for ISIL. Al-Muzaqzaq said the recruiter encouraged him to move to Syria to live and work, saying the cost of living was much lower, according to the report.
He agreed, but not out of a desire to fight, he said: “Because I am suffering from a financial crisis.”
He moved to Raqqah, Syria, ISIL’s de facto capital.
When he arrived, ISIL officials interviewed him and asked what his profession was. He told them he was an auto mechanic and he was assigned to repair ISIL vehicles for a monthly salary of $50.
He said he did not engage in any military or security operations and did not carry weapons.
He said his wife agreed to join him in Raqqah, saying she “never hesitated,” according to the report. He said he contacted her from Raqqah and asked her to leave Canada for Turkey, where she was met by ISIL facilitators who brought her to be reunited with her husband in Syria.
His wife was paid a monthly salary of $35, and a similar amount was given for each of their children, he said. She lived with him in Raqqah for two years and bore two more children there before coalition forces recaptured the city.
He denied he had been “captured” by coalition forces; rather, he said, he and his family willingly surrendered.
His account of his wife’s arrival in Syria differs from one recently told by a Canadian ISIL bride who is likely the same woman.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a university researcher who studies Western foreign fighters, and Stewart Bell, a reporter with Global News, recently interviewed two Canadian women inside a camp. The Toronto woman was not named, but her biographical account matches the account heard in court.
She said in her interview her husband “tricked” her into going to Syria and she hadn’t wanted to.
“It is very difficult to say whose story is true in these circumstances,” said Amarasingam. “Many of them, particularly the women, often say that it was not really a radicalization story but rather a romantic journey of some kind.
“Most of the women went willingly, most of them are just as politicized as the men are, just as committed to the cause.”
According to Amarasingam, there are about 900 men, 500 women and 1,000 children from 44 countries being held under Kurdish control in areas formerly under ISIL control. Eight to 10 of the children and three to four of the women are Canadian, by his count.
Each of the women will have their own story and circumstances and can be dealt with in a number of ways, including facing terrorism charges in Canada or being allowed to freely return.
Amarasingam said he thinks Canada has a moral obligation to repatriate the children, at least.
“The children shouldn’t have to live in a Syrian desert in tents because their parents made stupid decisions.”
Al-Muzaqzaq was one of eight alleged ISIL fighters from Lebanon returned to Beirut.
His hearing was adjourned until next week.
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