Who is “Jihadi Jack” and why is he Canada’s problem now?

Jack Letts, commonly referred to as ‘Jihadi Jack’, is a 24-year-old prisoner currently being held by Kurdish forces after having joined ISIS as a teenager.

Dylan Gibbons Montreal QC

Jack Letts, commonly referred to as ‘Jihadi Jack’, is a 24-year-old prisoner currently being held by Kurdish forces after having joined ISIS as a teenager.

He is the son of organic farmer John Letts, a 58-year-old Canadian, and ex-Oxfam fundraiser Sally Lane, a 56-year-old British citizen. Due to his lineage, he was born with a dual Canadian-British citizenship.

He lived a typical middle-class life in Oxford, U.K., and it does not appear there is any evidence that Letts ever spent time in Canada.

However, sometime while he was living in Oxford, Jack became radicalized after being inspired by ISIS propaganda he saw on the Internet. This motivated him to convert to Islam and he left for Syria in 2014 at the age of eighteen.

He was later dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the British media after images of him proudly flashing the #1 sign on a Syrian cliff were posted on the Internet.

According to CTV News, “In an interview with British broadcaster ITV news earlier this year, Letts said that when the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people took place, he thought they were a “good thing.”

His mother and father have also been punished for links to terrorism. According to the Daily Mail, Sally Lane, mother, and John Letts, father, sent £223 to Jack in 2015 while he was in Syria, despite knowing full well that his son had joined ISIS. They were promptly charged and convicted for funding terrorism, thereafter. They have claimed that this money was sent out of a sense of duty towards their son who had contacted them when he was supposedly trying to escape from Syria and they have repeatedly denounced terrorist activities.

According to The Telegraph, Jack had openly declared himself an “enemy of Britain” after joining ISIS as a teenager. Only since 2017, when he was captured by Kurdish forces while trying to flee to Turkey, has Jack rolled back his statements. As of 2017, he now claims that he has “no intention” of harming British citizens and has begged the U.K. to take him back.

But these claims fall on deaf ears either way. The U.K. is having none of the British citizen’s claims. In fact, they’re having none of him at all.

On Sunday, the Home Office of the U.K. confirmed that they have revoked Jack’s U.K. citizenship as a means of pre-emptively counteracting a possible terror threat. This means that sole responsibility for ‘Jihadi Jack’ falls to Canada, as Jack is now technically a Canadian citizen and only a Canadian citize.

“Instead of him now being a dual national, where Canada would potentially work with the U.K. about deciding how best to bring him home, where he would be repatriated, if so, who would prosecute, now that rests entirely on Canada’s shoulders,” explained Leah West, of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

Letts’ father slammed the decision, saying that the U.K. has ‘shirked its responsibility’ to one of its citizens. He further defended his son and claimed on Good Morning Britain that Jack suffers from extreme OCD which fueled his obsession with fundamentalist Islam and ISIS propaganda.

Jack took a different stance, however. Rather than continue pleading a dead case, Jack now claims that he never really felt very British to begin with, and that he’s always felt a kinship with Canadians.

“I’ve always felt that I am Canadian. My Dad is Canadian, and I never grew up being accepted as a British person anyway … I hope Canada does take me from here. I could go there, to prison, of course,” Letts said from his Kurdish prison.

In the same interview as this statement, Jack also recalls his desire to commit jihad and martyrdom, specifying that he didn’t want to commit a suicide bombing with a vest, but with a car.

According to Global News, the Canadian government has accused the U.K. of “offload[ing] their responsibilities” by removing Letts’ citizenship and shifting the problem of one of its citizens onto Canada.

“Canada is disappointed that the United Kingdom has taken this unilateral action to off-load their responsibilities,” a statement from the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. “Terrorism knows no borders, so countries need to work together to keep each other safe.”

“Decisions on depriving a dual national of citizenship are based on substantial advice from officials, lawyers and the intelligence agencies and all available information,” the statement continued.

However, even with such stern words, Canada is now left in a difficult situation, as few countries, particularly those in the West, are willing to let a person, no matter what their past may be, go stateless.

“Investigating, arresting, charging and prosecuting any Canadian involved in terrorism or violent extremism is our primary objective. They must be held accountable for their actions,” a spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said.

This statement suggests that some preparations may be being made to handle the ‘Jihadi Jack’ situation, but so far there is no firm confirmation that this is the case.

Letts’ father has even went so far as to write a letter to the Prime Minister asking for assistance, and claiming that the money sent to Letts’ was intended to help him be smuggled out of Syria, as his son was deeply regretful for having gone in the first place, according to CityNews.

Both Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau have acknowledged the issue, with the latter being much more tight-lipped on what, if any, procedure may be undertook.

According to Reuters, Trudeau is in a difficult situation given the fact that “Trudeau’s Liberals repealed a law that allowed for the citizenship of those convicted of terrorism offences to be revoked,” meaning that the Liberal government will, indeed, have to take some level of responsibility for the imprisoned Letts.

“It is a crime to travel internationally with a goal of supporting terrorism or engaging in terrorism, and that is a crime that we will continue to make all attempts to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. That is the message we have for Canadians and for anyone involved,” Trudeau said.

However, so far, he has declined to make a firm statement on whether Jack will be allowed to live in Canada, even if it is in another prison.

Conversely, Scheer, in no uncertain terms, condemns ‘Jihadi Jack’.

“British terrorist Jihadi Jack, a U.K. citizen, who may or may not have ever set foot in Canada, reportedly received help from a government representative,” Scheer said, leading off question period on Tuesday, reports CBC. “The Liberals proactively reached out to him to help him come to Canada. Why?”

“‘Jihadi Jack’ is in prison now and that is where he should stay,” continued Scheer. “A Conservative government under my leadership will not lift a finger to bring him back to Canada.”

Given the lengthy process of recovering any citizen from foreign jails, it is unlikely any move to repatriate ‘Jihadi Jack’ will come before the federal election. Thus, it appears that his fate may be decided on whether Trudeau retains his leadership position or if Scheer reigns victorious. We will have to wait and see.


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