The Ontario Court of Justice has granted more freedom to a Canadian woman repatriated in April from northeastern Syria who was married to a notorious ISIS militant.
Dure Ahmed, who is now living in the Toronto area, was married to El Shafee Elsheikh, a member of an ISIS militant group known to its hostages as “the Beatles” because of their British accents.
Elsheikh is serving multiple life sentences in an American supermax prison for his role in a hostage-taking scheme that led to the deaths of eight American, British and Japanese citizens.
Justice Reginald Alexander Cornelius ordered Ahmed on Thursday to enter into a year-long terrorism peace bond that compels her to abide by more than a dozen conditions.
Ahmed will no longer be under house arrest but will have to abide by a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. She must also wear a GPS tracking device.
“Based on Ms. Ahmed’s history, starting with her 2010 marriage to a top ranking ISIS member, her time in the detention camps, there exists a reasonable basis to fear that she may become involved in or aid a terrorist organization by indoctrinating, counselling or recruiting others to commit or participate in terrorist offences,” said Justice Cornelius.
The RCMP arrested Ahmed in April at the airport in Montreal when she touched down on Canadian soil after spending more than eight years in Syria, most of them in ISIS territory.
Her repatriation was part of a deal the government struck in a Federal Court case to bring 19 women and children home from detention camps in northeastern Syria.
Ahmed was released from custody under strict initial conditions that prevented her from leaving her residence except in limited circumstances. Ahmed is not facing any terrorism-related offences, unlike some of the other repatriated women.
‘She has shown the ability to conceal her movement’
While issuing the peace bond at a courthouse in Brampton, Ont., the judge said the Public Prosecution Service of Canada had “more than sufficient basis” to fear that Ahmed could participate in terrorist activity on Canadian soil.
“She has shown the ability to conceal her movement,” said Justice Cornelius. “She’s been exposed to high-ranking ISIS members, she has been exposed to ISIS ideology. And there is information that suggests she has publicly extolled the virtues of ISIS and its ideology.”
Cornelius approved all of the conditions that were laid out in a joint application submitted Monday by the Crown and Ahmed’s lawyer.
Crown attorney Marie Comiskey described the proposed peace bond conditions on Monday as giving “slightly more freedom under some safe checks” to Ahmed to “assist” in her “re-integration into Canadian society.” The Crown said the conditions “still address legitimate” fears she could commit terrorism offences in Canada.
Yoav Niv, Ahmed’s lawyer, told CBC News his client made no admission of criminal liability in court.
“The current conditions were arrived at as a result of compliance with the conditions of her bail and to allow for more practical realities of a single mother of two children,” Niv said Thursday after the court proceeding.
Ahmed granted access to laptop
Ahmed will also now be allowed access to a laptop if she agrees to pay for and install a program that allows the RCMP to monitor her online activity.
She is also banned from speaking with anyone tied to a terrorist organization, using encrypted messaging programs, or accessing social media.
An analysis of a Twitter account the Crown alleges belonged to Ahmed revealed ISIS content, along with expressions of support for Shariah law and for the role of the Islamic State’s moral police, the judge said.
The judge said he received information from the Crown to suggest that Ahmed was aware of her husband’s activities and the state of affairs in Syria before she left the Greater Toronto Area in 2014 and travelled to Syria.
The Crown cited interviews Ahmed gave to media while in Syria. In them, she sought to portray life in an ISIS enclave as something close to normal, the Crown said.
“Everyone thinks when you come to Syria you’re going to be living in tents in the mountains with no electricity or running water,” Ahmed told Radio Canada in 2019.
“So you get to Raqqa, you have your own house there’s electricity 24 hours and you live in a nice house and you’re eating Pringles and you’re eating Twix and it’s like you never left.”
The Crown said Pringles and Twix were considered luxuries in Syria at the time. The interviews suggest Ahmed was living a lifestyle afforded only to upper echelon members of ISIS, court heard.
The court also heard details of Ahmed and Elsheikh’s relationship.
On Monday, CBC News and BBC made Ahmed’s ties to Elsheikh public for the first time.
The Crown told the court that Elsheikh said in the past he wasn’t able to live a normal life in Syria because he was afraid of being targeted by a drone.
Elsheikh said he could only take his children to the playground at midnight, the Crown said. Ahmed also expressed a fear of being killed in a drone strike in 2018, the Crown added.
U.S. prosecutors said Elsheikh led a conspiracy that involved the abduction of 26 hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015. The cell was involved in abducting, torturing and beheading hostages, and posting videos online for the world to see.
Elsheikh was extradited and convicted in 2022 for his role in the deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. U.S. prosecutors also accused Elsheikh of conspiring in the deaths of two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning, along with Japanese journalists Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto.
‘I was a dumb girl in love’
During exclusive interviews with CBC Podcasts and the BBC this week, Ahmed said she was “oblivious to what was going on” when she lived with Elsheikh in the de facto ISIS capital Raqqa.
Ahmed called it a “stupid mistake” to travel to Syria in 2014 to be with her husband, according to interviews for a new podcast called Bloodlines, a CBC-BBC co-production.
“I was a dumb girl in love and thinking that I can trust somebody that I couldn’t,” she said. “It was just a stupid mistake, a stupid decision I made, because I just felt that. Maybe I just fell. What can go wrong?”
Ahmed said she met Elsheikh, a British citizen, when he was visiting his aunt in Toronto. They were married in 2010, she said.
Missing victims’ remains
Ahmed said her marriage ended in 2017. The Crown told the court it believes the relationship continued.
None of the remains of the victims of the hostage scheme have been recovered.
Ahmed told CBC and BBC that “for the first time,” she believes she has enough influence over Elsheikh to convince him to reveal where the hostages’ remains are located.
“If I got the chance to,” said Ahmed. “But, you know, no one has come forward. No one has asked. No one. You know, so, we’ll see.”
The RCMP has declined CBC’s request for comment, citing the fact that the matter is still before the courts.
The officer of Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc said that “while it cannot comment on specific cases, supporting a terrorist group, domestically or abroad, is a serious criminal offence.”
“Canada’s law enforcement agencies use every tool at their disposal to protect Canadians and hold perpetrators to account,” said LeBlanc’s spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Comeau in a media statement.
Comeau said he would not comment further because the case is before the courts.