Sources close to seven young Quebecers who left Canada one year ago to join militants in Syria are speaking out, expressing deep worry about their well-being and future ability to return home.
Last January, seven people — five of them post-secondary students at Montreal CEGEP Collège de Maisonneuve — left the country by plane to go to the Middle East territory controlled by ISIS.
- Syrian jihadists believed to have recruited 6 young Quebecers
- Accused Quebec teen jihadist charged with terrorism offences
- Young Canadian radicals who've travelled overseas
"He's being controlled over there. He can't speak," one source said about a young medical student who left Quebec for Syria last January.
The person, who spoke to Radio-Canada on the condition of anonymity, said the student cannot get out of the ISIS-controlled region.
The source said the young man spends his mornings studying medicine, and then practises in a hospital in the afternoons.
After marrying his girlfriend, who is also a medical student, both left together for Syria in January 2015.
Radio-Canada's sources said that the young man does not participate in combat. He no longer has his Canadian passport.
Sources have pleaded with him not to commit any acts of violence.
"Don't hurt a fly.… He must continue his studies there and the hope is that … there will be a solution or we will pull him out."
Fear of arrests at home
According to Radio-Canada's sources, there is concern he will be arrested if he returns to Canada. One of those close to the man said it would be better to remain in Syria helping children rather than end up in Canada behind bars.
An immigration lawyer said jail time would be a real possibility for those who return to Canada after joining ISIS.
"There could likely be charges. They could maybe make a plea on humanitarian grounds … but in principle the participation in such an organization, even if one has a humanitarian role, is participating in a criminal organization," said immigration law specialist Hugues Langlais.
The RCMP said each case is unique and refused to give Radio-Canada any information about its investigation.
One of the biggest challenges for police departments is collecting evidence.
"Police can't go into a territory controlled by ISIS to gather proof the way officers would if a crime were committed in Canada," said Dave Charland, a national security expert.
Some in regular contact
Radio-Canada's sources said that some of those who left Canada last year are in regular communication with them.
One young couple that left Montreal last year are said to be living in ISIS-controlled territory. They are married and have a baby on the way.
The family of another man who left last January got bad news six months after his departure.
In June, the family got a mysterious phone call announcing that their son died as a "martyr" in Tikrit, Iraq.
"I am beside myself. It's not easy … I am looking for the thugs who did this," the man's father recently told Radio-Canada.
Several sources said they are in regular contact with the RCMP. They wonder why police didn't intervene when the young adults were in Turkey, awaiting to cross into Syria.
They also say they want the Canadian government to increase its efforts alerting young people to the dangers of propaganda videos made by groups like ISIS, which they say do not represent reality.