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Mysterious writer behind ISIS-K propaganda calls himself ‘the Canadian’ | CBC News



Mysterious writer behind ISIS-K propaganda calls himself ‘the Canadian’ | CBC News

A mysterious writer making propaganda for an Afghan branch of ISIS claimed to be based somewhere in Canada which, experts say, could be cause for concern for authorities. 

Voice of Khurasan, an online publication used by the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K), which is suspected of being behind the Moscow attack that killed at least 140 people last week, includes several contributions from a person who publishes under the name Sulaiman Dawood al-Kanadie. 

The last part of the handle means “the Canadian” in Arabic and has been used by several high-profile ISIS members from Canada in the past.

Sulaiman Dawood al-Kanadie appears as the author of a sprawling June 2023 essay, in which he seems to suggest that he is living under the radar in a Western country. He chastises Muslim men “especially where I live” who are more likely to “put on skinny jeans” and “fill their faces with food at a ‘Free Syria’ or ‘Free Palestine'” fundraiser than commit to fighting in an armed conflict on behalf of ISIS. 

His name appears again on a July 2023 piece demanding a jihadist invasion of Israel and again in the August issue, where he says the West has grown bolder “as they are now back to oppressing and killing Muslims, burning Qur’an, and occupying Muslims’ settlements in Palestine.”

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Researcher makes contact 

Riccardo Valle, the director of research for the Islamabad-based publication Khorasan Diary, has been tracking al-Kanadie and others in the broader ISIS-K movement. He made contact with al-Kanadie and provided CBC News with screenshots of discussions with him about his work for Voice of Khurasan.

“He told me that he was in Canada, but he didn’t tell me from which part of Canada,” said Valle. 

Valle provided proof of an inactive Facebook profile showing al-Kanadie identifying himself as from Toronto, but living in Laval, Que. 

One expert says the appearance of an ISIS-K member identifying themselves as “the Canadian” may be alarming to authorities.

“The fact that he was able to operate for so long on such a public scale is concerning,” said Lucas Webber, co-founder of the research network Militant Wire, who has been closely following ISIS-K online.

“I think the Moscow attack in particular is shifting the narrative and awakening the international community to the threat, the scale of the threat, that the Islamic State, particularly its Afghanistan branch, faces.”

This page signed by Sulaiman Dawood al-Kanadie appeared in an issue of Voice of Khurasan, an English-language ISIS propaganda magazine. (Voice of Khurasan)

“The emergence of an apparent Canadian media operative working for its South Asian branch warrants concern as ISIS-K is increasingly bellicose in its intensifying campaign to strike the West.”

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) said in an emailed statement that it is keeping tabs on ISIS-K and forecasts the group will continue to be active for at least the remainder of the year.

A screenshot provided to CBC News shows a now-inactive Facebook profile of Sulaiman Dawood al-Kanadie, stating he is from Toronto and worked in Laval, Que.
A screenshot of a now-inactive Facebook profile provided to CBC News indicates al-Kanadie is from Toronto and worked in Laval, Que. (Submitted by Riccardo Valle)

“CSIS assesses that inspired attacks across the globe will continue during 2024 at an unpredictable pace, related in part to world events, ISIS-K messaging and the individual motivations of the attackers involved,” said a spokesperson. 

The RCMP, which is charged with tracking and disrupting terrorist threats in Canada, told CBC News in an emailed statement on Thursday that it is “aware of media reports on ‘Suleiman Dawood al-Kanadie’ and cannot comment any further in order to protect potential criminal investigations.”

Exploiting the chaos

In recent years, ISIS-K has exploited the chaos that has reigned in Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control in August 2021 to carve out a stronghold in the country and increase its global operations. (Khorasan refers to a historical region that includes parts of modern day Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan).

Canadians have been some of the most prolific spokespeople for ISIS in the recent past. Farah Mohamed Shirdon, a Calgary native who appeared in a promotional video burning his Canadian passport, was one of the group’s first spokespeople to gain prominence online in 2014. Mohammed Khalifa, who lived in Toronto, was known as the English “voice of ISIS” in propaganda videos. Both used the similar “al-Kanadi” in their aliases.

Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor in the School of Religion at Queen’s University and an expert on ISIS, says Canadians, like other English-speakers, continue to be potential recruits for the group, which is designated a terrorist group by Canada and other countries including the U.S. and the U.K.

“Canadians have always been front and centre in the ISIS propaganda machinery for almost a decade,” said Amarasingam who was in contact with several Canadian ISIS operatives in the past.

He also thinks that al-Kanadie is Canadian. 

“Canadian authorities have probably known about him for a long time, since even researchers have seen how prolific he is over the last little while,” he said. 

“[The RCMP] will likely be very concerned because, just as the frontlines of jihad shift to other theatres, English-language propagandists have a lot of potential to attract new fighters to the cause.”

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