Terrorism charges laid against Calgary man after 7-year probe

Alberta's RCMP Integrated National Enforcement Team has laid terrorism charges against a Calgary man following an investigation that lasted seven years, and may bring further charges against others.

Hussein Sobhe Borhot, 34, accused of participating in a kidnapping, helping ISIS in Syria

RCMP have charged Hussein Sobhe Borhot, 34, of Calgary with three counts of participation in the activity of a terrorist group and one count of commission of an offence for a terrorist group. (CBC)

Alberta's RCMP Integrated National Enforcement Team has laid terrorism charges against a Calgary man following an investigation that lasted seven years.

Hussein Sobhe Borhot, 34, of Calgary has been charged with three counts of participation in the activity of a terrorist group, and one count of commission of an offence for a terrorist group, RCMP said in a release.

Between May 2013 and June 2014, Borhot travelled to Syria, where he contributed to the activities of ISIS and received training from the terror group, according to investigators.

Police say he also knowingly committed the offence of kidnapping.

These type of investigations are particularly complex, RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan told CBC.

"The investigation is still ongoing, there are hopes that there could be further charges or arrests … against other individuals," Logan said. "I'm not too sure if there are going to be further charges against Borhot."

The three counts of participation in activity of a terrorist group include Borhot "entering Syria, enlisting, participating, receiving training, committing terrorist activities and kidnapping for the benefit of, or at the direction of the Islamic state," Logan said.

Accused to appear in court Friday

The charges, including the kidnapping charge, are based on his activities in Syria. None of the charges have been proven in court. 

Borhot is currently in custody and will appear July 24 at the Calgary Provincial Court.

CBC News reported in March 2017 that Borhot was among several men with Calgary connections whose names were discovered on ISIS documents that appeared to be application forms to join the terrorist organization.

On the paperwork, Borhot listed his profession as "plumber" and noted his level of "Shariah" — the legal code of Islam, based on the Qur'an — was basic.

In November 2017, CBC News reported that agents from Canada's federal counterterror security force had questioned a Calgary man, Yacine Meziane, regarding the whereabouts of Borhot.

Difficult investigations

Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor in the School of Religion at Queen's University who has studied radicalization, said it's likely police received some new information before laying these charges.

"Collecting information in Syria that could hold up in a Canadian court of law is very difficult," Amarasingam told CBC. "To find evidence that he joined a listed terrorism agency from that period would have been enormously difficult for the RCMP to prove in court. So I think that's probably why it took so long.

"This added charge that they threw in there today about kidnapping likely suggests some new information that they received from another source, maybe from another country, that they now feel confident enough to use in court and charge him with those previous offences."

  • WATCH | Find out more about the complex nature of this case from the law expert below

Law expert speaks to rare terrorism charges laid for activity abroad

3 years ago
Duration 5:44
Michael Nesbitt from the University of Calgary says a Calgarian facing terrorism charges for alleged activities in Syria is a unique case that many law experts are watching. Find out why.

ISIS is the militant group that took over territory in Iraq and Syria and implemented a harsh form of Islamic law.

ISIS fighters are known for graphic videos documenting beheadings of journalists and aid workers. They're accused by the United Nations of crimes against humanity for carrying out mass executions, abducting women and girls to use as sex slaves and using child soldiers.

'Long game'

Amarasingam said the length of the investigation shows the RCMP are serious about following up on Canadians who return from fighting in Syria. 

"It is indicative that they're playing the long game, that even after five, six years they're willing to bring charges against an individual who by all accounts that I've spoken to in Calgary, has basically moved on with his life, is not currently radicalized, is kind of just living his life with his family, just going to work and so on," Amarasingam said.

"To now charge him five years later shows that the RCMP is very much committed to following these cases through to the end ... If they can find the right kind of evidence, we might see more charge for other people as well."

Amarasingam said there is a movement among some researchers and community workers to help returning fighters get rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

Individuals who have been deradicalized, especially if they're critical of the groups that they joined, could be used to "talk to young people about the dangers of these kinds of groups," he said. "So, there is this other movement afoot that's kind of moving away from arrest and imprisonment, particularly if you don't have the evidence to actually be successful in court."

When Borhot left Syria, his stated reason was that he planned to go "join the brothers in Lebanon," but he actually returned to Canada in the spring of 2014. 

"It's important to keep in mind as well that this individual hasn't done anything since he returned to Canada. There's no evidence of radicalization, there's no evidence of plotting, as far as we can tell there's no evidence that he's endangering public safety over the last five years," Amarasingam said.

"I do think it's a bit, maybe unfair is the wrong word, but a bit strange to charge someone six years after the fact, especially when he didn't join the organization as we know it today. It will be interesting to see what kind of evidence comes forward in the case because I think this kidnapping charge is very interesting. As more details emerge, it might become clear that he did a lot more in Syria than we understand, but we'll have to wait and see."

The fate of former Canadian ISIS militants and their families has been the subject of heated debate on the floor of the House of Commons in the past, with the Conservatives accusing the Liberals of welcoming home jihadist fighters.

Human Rights Watch says the Canadian government should immediately bring home all its detained citizens to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into Canadian society and, where appropriate, prosecute anyone accused of a crime.

With files from John Gibson, Carolyn Dunn, Patrick Jones