ISIS hoax: Canada arrests man for allegedly lying about killing people in NYT podcast

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Canadian authorities have arrested a man for allegedly lying about joining ISIS, including during an appearance on the award-winning 2018 New York Times podcast “Caliphate” that sparked backlash at the time.

Shehroze Chaudhry, who uses the name Abu Huzayfah al-Kanadi, has presented himself as a former ISIS member in a number of social media posts since 2016. In an interview published by the New York Times in 2018, Chaudhry claimed to have been a member of ISIS’ religious police in Syria and described carrying out executions for the terrorist organization.

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On Friday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced they had arrested the 25-year-old in Burlington under Canada’s anti-terrorism hoax laws.

“Hoaxes can generate fear within our communities and create the illusion there is a potential threat to Canadians, while we have determined otherwise,” RCMP superintendent Christopher deGale said in a statement.

“As a result, the RCMP takes these allegations very seriously, particularly when individuals, by their actions, cause the police to enter into investigations in which human and financial resources are invested and diverted from other ongoing priorities,” he added.

New York Times podcast

The RCMP said the charges against Chaudhry stemmed from interviews “published in multiple media outlets, aired on podcasts and featured on a television documentary, raising public safety concerns amongst Canadians.”

Chaudhry had been posting on social media about his apparent time with ISIS in Syria since 2016, but came to public prominence through his appearance on the New York Times’ “Caliphate” podcast.

Speaking to the paper’s Rukmini Callimachi, Chaudhry – who was introduced as “former ISIS member” Abu Huzayfah and used his pseudonym throughout – described in length how he apparently traveled to Syria in 2014 to join the organization following the outbreak of war in the country.

On the podcast, Chaudhry claimed to have executed two men after he had enrolled in the ISIS police force known as the “Hisba,” which was tasked with enforcing the group’s religious ideology in the territory it then controlled in Syria. He spoke in detail how he had shot one of the men in the back of the head for dealing drugs, and stabbed another in the heart, describing how the blood “sprayed everywhere.”

He then claimed to have fled Syria and returned to Canada, apparently disgusted by the organization’s violent tactics.

The podcast won several awards, including the 2018 Peabody Award and the Murrow award for excellence in sound from the Radio Television Digital News Association.

Controversy and doubts

The New York Times’ decision to broadcast Chaudhry’s account sparked controversy at the time.

In Canada’s parliament, lawmakers questioned why a self-confessed former terrorist was allowed to roam the streets of Toronto freely. “Why aren’t they doing something about this despicable animal that’s walking around the country?” said Conservative MP James Bezan.

But others soon began to raise doubts about the reliability of Chaudhry’s account.

Canada’s CBC News also interviewed Chaudhry, but said the story he told them was different to the one published in the New York Times.
According to CBC, Chaudhry denied killing anyone while in Syria and insisted he was just a “low-level police officer.”

While the New York Times had interviewed Chaudhry in 2016, just after he had apparently returned to Canada, it did not release the podcast until two years later. CBC interviewed Chauhdry in September 2017, when he allegedly denied the killings.

“The man gave two very different accounts of his time with ISIS to CBC News and the New York Times. The contradictions only came to light after both news organizations published their stories,” wrote CBC in May 2018.

During the intervening period, Chaudhry was interrogated by the RCMP but released without charge.

In an interview with CBC, The New York Times’ Callimachi suggested that Chaudhry might have changed his story in response to realizing he could be arrested.

“When we interviewed him back in November of 2016, nobody from CSIS or RCMP had yet interviewed this man,” she told CBC.

“I think that we need to look carefully at what he is saying now through the lens that this is a young man that is now facing a real investigation and possibly arrest,” she added.

But according to CBC News producer Nazim Baksh, when pressed on the inconsistencies, Chaudhry broke down in tears and insisted he had lied to the New York Times and had not killed anyone.

In reaction to Chaudhry's arrest on Friday, Callimachi acknowledged Chaudhry's arrest on Twitter and discussed why the Canadian government hadn't arrested him until now, suggesting that he had been forced into a “checkmate” by authorities - he can only prove he wasn't lying through giving evidence that might incriminate him on terrorism charges.

The anti-terrorism hoax laws under which Chaudhry was arrested carry a maximum sentence of five years.

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