OTTAWA – A Canadian admitted in court on Friday that he made up stories about his service as an Islamic State fighter and executioner in Syria. In return, Canadian authorities dropped criminal charges against him for carrying out a hoax involving the threat of terrorism.
The man, Shehroze Chaudhry, had posted fabricated stories of his life as a terrorist in Syria on social media from 2016, according to a joint statement of the facts between prosecutors and the defense. He then repeated them to several news outlets, including the New York Times, which then amplified his accounts, according to the statement.
Mr. Chaudhry, who is now 26, had come to regret giving interviews to the media and “wanted to finish his studies and change his life,” the statement said.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges because Mr. Chaudhry’s accounts “were errors resulting from immaturity – not of sinister intent and certainly not of criminal intent,” wrote his lawyer, Nader R Hasan, in an email.
Mr. Chaudhry was, however, required to file a so-called peace bond of $ 10,000, which would be forfeited if he violated the terms of the agreement. The prosecutor was not immediately available for comment.
As Abu Huzayfah, Mr. Chaudhry, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Burlington, Ont., Was the central figure in The Times 10-part podcast series “Caliphate”. The release of this series in 2018, and other reporting based on Mr. Chaudhry’s accounts, created a political storm in the Parliament of Canada among opposition parties who have repeatedly attacked the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for appearing to allow a terrorist killer to roam the streets of the suburbs freely. Toronto.
But in truth, there was little or no risk to the public. The statement of facts presented to the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton on Friday concluded: “Mr. Chaudhry has never entered Syria or participated in ISIS operations anywhere in the world.
Last year, Mr. Chaudhry was arrested in Canada for carrying out a hoax that terrified and threatened the public. After his arrest, The Times re-examined the “Caliphate” series and found “a history of Mr. Chaudhry’s misrepresentation and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described on the” Caliphate “podcast.” The podcast didn’t hold up, the Times said.
The review of the series found that “The Times reporters were too gullible about the verification measures that were undertaken and disregarded the lack of corroboration of essential aspects of Mr. Chaudhry’s story,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, spokesperson. word of the Times. “Since that time, we have introduced new practices to avoid similar failures,” she said.
In 2019, “Caliphate” won an Overseas Press Club award and a Peabody Award. The Overseas Press Club canceled its award and the Times returned the Peabody. The Pulitzer Prize board also revoked its recognition of the podcast as a finalist.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police interviewed Mr. Chaudhry in April 2017 – a year before the “Caliphate” podcast – based on information from his social media posts. At that point, he told them that he had made up his stories of being an ISIS fighter in Syria.
Despite this confession to the police, he continued to portray himself in media and social media interviews as a veteran of the Islamic State almost until his arrest in September of last year.
The statement of facts presented to the court on Friday indicates that a Times reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, prompted Mr. Chaudhry to turn his false story.
“Sometimes during the podcast, Ms. Callimachi specifically encouraged Mr. Chaudhry to discuss acts of violence,” the statement read. When Mr. Chaudhry expressed his reluctance to do so, she replied, ‘You have to talk about the murders. “”
Ms. Callimachi denies making the comment and the quote does not appear in the podcast transcript.
Mr. Chaudhry’s trial on the terrorist hoax charges was scheduled to begin in February. Prosecutors agreed to drop them in exchange for his confession, as well as his consent to publish the peace bond and abide by its terms.
Under the peace bond, which is reserved for people whose authorities fear they will commit terrorist acts, Mr. Chaudhry is to remain in Ontario for the next year and live with his parents. He is prohibited from owning weapons, must continue to receive advice and is required to report any change of virtual or physical address to the police.
The statement of facts indicates that while Mr. Chaudhry’s accounts of his participation in ISIS executions may be false, “they provide reasonable grounds to fear that Mr. Chaudhry may commit a terrorism offense.”
Mr. Hasan, Mr. Chaudhry’s lawyer, said his client “admitted to making mistakes”.
Instagram posts from 2016 – made under Mr Chaudhry’s name and posted with an identifiable photograph of his face – said Mr Chaudhry visited Syria in 2014 and was incorporated into the Amniyat section of Islamic State, a group responsible for internal security. , “For a little less than a year”.
“I have been on the battlefield,” the messages said. “I support the brothers who are fighting on the pitch.”
During this time, however, Mr. Chaudhry was either with his family in Burlington or worked at a restaurant he owns in nearby Oakville, Ontario.
In November 2016, the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based group, compiled Mr. Chaudhry’s online allegations of terrorist activity in a report that was distributed to Ms. Callimachi and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, between others.
This report prompted a counterterrorism unit made up of members of various Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the mounted police, to initiate the terrorism investigation.
After confirming Mr. Chaudhry’s identity by comparing a portrait online to his driver’s license photo, police also obtained his travel records. During a meeting with the police on April 12, 2017, Mr. Chaudhry confirmed that he had written these messages.
“He also readily admitted that he had never been to Syria,” according to the agreed statement of facts presented to the court.
The statement also said that shortly after receiving the research group’s report, Ms. Callimachi emailed Mr. Chaudhry asking if he would speak about his alleged experiences within the Islamic State. She quickly traveled to Toronto to record interviews that were used for “Caliphate”.
Errol P. Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the decision to drop the charges suggested prosecutors and the judge had concluded that Mr. Chaudhry was not a danger but rather “a youngster. immature man who basically made up a lot of things and tried to convince people that he was much more influential than him.
Mr. Hasan, the defense attorney, said in the email that the resolution of the case “takes into account the tremendous progress Mr. Chaudhry has made over the past two years.”
“Despite the global media attention this case received and the stress of a criminal charge,” he wrote, “Mr. Chaudhry was able to graduate from college and keep full-time employment.