A recently released video featuring an English-speaking man who says he travelled from Canada to fight with ISIS in Syria has prompted one expert to take a closer look at whether the man is the voice of several chilling ISIS propaganda videos.
In a video released by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a man who identifies himself as Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed says in English that he is originally Ethiopian and came from Canada.
“I came to Syria in 2013,” the man says in the video, adding that he was captured after a gun battle. Mohammed’s detention, first reported by Stewart Bell of Global News, happened in the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour.
Amarnath Amarasingam — a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and a postdoctoral fellow who co-directs a study of Western foreign fighters based at the University of Waterloo — believes the voice of the man in the video could be a match for the voice heard in a series of English-narrated ISIS videos.
They include Flames of War, a propaganda video released in 2014, and videos from claiming responsibility for the 2015 attacks on Paris that left 130 people dead.
“If you compare the voice of that to Flames of War, I’d say it’s pretty identical,” Amarasingam said.
Amarasingam said a friend who knew Mohammed from Toronto saw the video and recognized him right away. The friend told him that Mohammed adopted the nom de guerre Abu Ridwan as his religious convictions deepened.
CBC News has not spoken to the friend.
Other fighters he’s spoken with as recently as last fall claim that a man named Abu Ridwan is the voice behind some of ISIS videos, Amarasingam said.
Taken together, the name, the voice and the statement from the friend who recognized him suggest Mohammed could be the faceless fighter featured in the ISIS propaganda, the researcher said.
Amarasingam also said that the location of Mohammed’s capture in one of the last remaining pockets of ISIS fighters in Syria is notable, suggesting that he is “not just a regular fighter who is being used as cannon fodder.”
The issue of Canadians fighting with ISIS abroad isn’t a new one.
Global Affairs Canada did not provide specific details about the case, but at the moment CBC News is not aware of Mohammed facing any criminal charges.
The government has in the past struggled to do much about returning foreign fighters because of the challenge of prosecuting people here without evidence of illegal actions abroad.
This case could be different, CBC’s senior investigative reporter Diana Swain noted, as the fighter featured in the recently released video expressly says he was captured while participating in a gun battle.
In late 2018, a report suggested the number of extremists abroad with Canadian ties was around 190.