British Columbia

'Ignorance and greed': Mechanic knew he was fixing vehicles for ISIS, judge says in rejecting asylum appeal

A Lebanese mechanic who says he unknowingly worked for ISIS and was then approached by Hezbollah to become a spy has been denied asylum in Canada.

Boutros Massroua also claims Hezbollah wanted him to be a spy, fears retaliation when he returns to Lebanon

A file photo of ISIS fighters parading through the city of Mosul, Iraq. (The Associated Press)

A Lebanese mechanic who says he unknowingly worked for ISIS and was then approached by Hezbollah to become a spy has been denied asylum in Canada.

Boutros Massroua, 54, is from Zahleh, a Christian town in the Beqaa Valley, near Lebanon's border with Syria. 

He made a refugee claim saying he fears retaliation from both ISIS — also known as Da'esh — and from Hezbollah, a militant group that has fought on different sides of the Syrian conflict, if he returns to Lebanon.

But in a decision handed down by Federal Court in Vancouver on Tuesday, Justice Shirzad Ahmed wrote that it was "implausible" that Massroua didn't realize who he was working for, and that he was "reckless for the purposes of economic gain by fattening his pockets."

"As a result of his wilful ignorance and greed — which manifested in the form of very well functioning vehicles for Da'esh — the cruel objectives of Da'esh were furthered and innocent lives were most likely lost," Ahmed wrote.

Vehicle wet with blood

According to federal court documents, Massroua was approached by a new client, who called himself Abu Mohamed, in December 2014.

Mohamed brought Massroua several cars to repair, eventually telling him he would pay him more than his standard rate if he worked outside of his regular hours. Massroua accepted the job.

Several months later Massroua says he was taken to a different location operated by a man named Abu Arafat, a place he referred to as a "hangar."

He said the men had long-beards and spoke in Arabic in an accent that didn't sound Lebanese. They were installing heavy metal on the floor of trucks to strengthen them, and some of the vehicles were dotted with bullet holes.

He said the the metal bars and casing had "no other use than for military purposes."

Massroua said he only visited the well-lit hangar at night. When he would visit he was patted down, and his cellphone and a cross that he wore were confiscated.

On one occasion, he said he was repairing a vehicle at the hangar when he realized the inside was wet with blood. He said he became afraid and tried to make excuses to not go back, but armed men came to his home and took him back there.

Boutros Massroua, 54, is from the town of Zahleh, a Christian town in the Beqaa Valley, near Lebanon's border with Syria. The decision said ISIS is known to have penetrated the area. (Wikipedia/Public Domain)

At one point, he said three men came to his home and put a Chinese visa in his passport, telling him he should be prepared to travel there to buy something for them.

He was also taken into Syria on three occasions to do repairs at a location from which he could see shelling, he said — and it was at that point he became convinced that the group he had been working for was ISIS.

Approached by Hezbollah

Massroua said that in March 2015 he was approached by Abu Al Hassan, a representative of Hezbollah, who accused him of working with ISIS and told him he had one week to stop working with them.

Hezbollah is a Shia militant group and political party in Lebanon that deployed troops into Syria in 2012.

Massroua said at that point he and his wife began applying for a visa to Canada in order to visit his wife's sister.

In early May 2015 he says he was woken in the middle of the night by members of ISIS and taken to Syria, still in his pyjamas. A flat tire cut the trip short and he was brought back to his town.

Later, he says Al Hassan and two other Hezbollah members approached him, and asked him to act as a spy for them when he returned to Syria, for $1,000 per night.

The same day, Massroua received an email from the Canadian embassy saying his visa application was approved.

Justice Ahmed would later write that "evidence shows that the Applicant's resistance against Hezbollah was greater than what he exercised against ISIS/Da'esh."

That night, Massroua said he was taken back into Syria with ISIS members to repair an SUV. In the days that followed, he said Hezbollah said they would plant a wire on him, and that he and his wife would be killed if he didn't comply.

On May 15, Massroua was told his Canadian visa was ready, and the next day he and his wife headed to Beirut to stay with her parents until the visas were issued. They travelled to Canada just over a week later.

In a decision handed down in Federal Court in Vancouver on Tuesday, Justice Shirzad Ahmed wrote that it was 'implausible' that Massroua didn't realize who he was working for, and that he was 'reckless for the purposes of economic gain by fattening his pockets.' (Andrew Lee/CBC)

'Complicit in crimes against humanity'

Massroua and his wife submitted refugee claims in early September 2015.

By October, his wife was granted refugee protection, but the Refugee Protection Division rejected his claim, saying he was "complicit in crimes against humanity because he voluntarily made a significant and knowing contribution to ISIS by repairing vehicles used to further the purpose of the organization."

The decision said it was "entirely implausible" Massroua was unaware he was working for ISIS, given their presence in the area, his observations about the group, and the repairs he was being paid to do.

The Refugee Convention excludes individuals from refugee protection when there are serious reasons for considering that they have committed "crimes against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity."

Massroua's lawyer Amanda Aziz said her client now faces deportation to Lebanon, as he has no other appeals and is not eligible for any other immigration status in Canada.

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

With files from Clare Hennig