RCMP file terrorism charges against man believed to be fighting overseas

CALGARY — RCMP have laid terrorism charges in absentia against a Calgary man who was seen burning his Canadian passport and threatening U.S. President Barack Obama in an Islamic State propaganda video.

Farah Mohamed Shirdon, 22, faces several offences, including participation in the activity of a terrorist group and instructing others to carry out terrorist activity.

Mounties said Thursday the charges are being laid in absentia because they believe Shirdon remains overseas. A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued and a notice was to be issued via Interpol.

Police said their investigation — part of what they call Project Staccato — determined that Shirdon left Canada on March 14, 2014, to fight with the Islamic State in Syria. He was last known to be in the city of Raqqa.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marlin DeGrand said it’s believed Shirdon served in various roles with the organization.

“Our investigation showed that Shirdon served in a combat role and performed other functions for ISIS such as recruiting, fundraising, encouraging others to commit violence and spreading propaganda — all designed to enhance the activities of the ISIS,” DeGrand said in a release.

There were reports he had been killed, but RCMP said that wasn’t the case.

Shirdon has featured prominently in western media’s coverage of North Americans travelling overseas to fight with the militant group.

Last year, the CBC aired the propaganda video of Shirdon burning his passport and threatening Obama.

“We are coming and we will destroy you,” he said, surrounded by several men with guns.

One of the terrorism charges relates to that video.

Another charge relates to threats Shirdon allegedly made in a video interview with media outlet Vice last September. In the video of that interview, a man calling himself Abu Usamah promised there was going to be a “brilliant” attack in New York and the Islamic State’s flag would fly over the White House.

“I’m Canadian, well, I was Canadian,” he told Vice’s online magazine, Motherboard, a few months earlier.

He said he had talked to a Canadian intelligence agent a few days before leaving Canada and that the “poor girl” who interviewed him probably lost her job.

He told the magazine that he was active on Twitter and using social media as a recruitment tool. A search Thursday for the Twitter account he reportedly used, @MuhajirSumalee, showed it has been suspended.

Other media have said Shirdon, a nephew of a former prime minister of Somalia, used to work at a Calgary movie theatre.

Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada didn’t know Shirdon, but had seen him at some Calgary events in the past. He worried that Shirdon’s actions would inspire other radicalized youth to head overseas.

He said the charges will hopefully act as a deterrent to other youth thinking about heading overseas. But he also wants police to work more on preventing recruitment that he believes is happening at home.

“I think it’s a very good step but government has the responsibility, our RCMP and police have the responsibility, to go to the bottom of this thing and find out who are the recruiters and go after them. I strongly believe these are local people.”

Calgary police recently announced a partnership with RCMP and other agencies to create a prevention program, with a dedicated hotline, to address radicalization in the city.

Mounties said they are working to bring Shirdon back to Canada so he can be arrested. No officials were available to comment on how likely that may be.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said in a news release that the charges are important to discourage others.

“These charges not only demonstrate that the RCMP is taking active measures to investigate and pursue criminal charges against high-risk travellers, but also serve as a powerful deterrent message to individuals seeking to travel abroad for terrorist purposes and those already engaged in such activity.”

Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press