Montreal father of would-be jihadi hid passports to try to keep son home

Newly released court documents show the roles and reactions of the families of two Montreal would-be jihadis, Merouane Ghalmi and Daniel Darko, who tried to get to Syria to fight.

Court affidavit shows one family's denial, another's vigilance in response to radicalized sons

In their quest to fight in Syria, Merouane Ghalmi, 24, left, and Daniel Darko, 28, travelled from Montreal to Malaysia and then back to Turkey before being sent home to Canada. (Radio-Canada)

Newly released court documents show how the families of two Montreal would-be jihadis, Merouane Ghalmi and Daniel Darko, reacted very differently from one another when they learned their sons tried to travel to Syria to fight.

Ghalmi, 24, and Darko, 28, were sent back to Canada within weeks of leaving the country in January 2015, after being denied entry to Turkey. 

Although the pair were never charged in connection with their travels, police were successful in their bid to have the two men sign peace bonds and agree to several conditions, including the wearing of electronic monitoring bracelets for one year — conditions that expired last spring.

The documents released Wednesday are sworn statements from an RCMP officer, based on interviews with the two men and their families. The officer believed the two were a threat to national security. 
Merouane Ghalmi arrives at the Montreal courthouse on Feb. 26, 2015. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Her affidavit was presented in 2015 at the peace-bond hearing and was only made public after some media outlets, including the CBC, fought in court to have pertinent documents released.

Pair made it as far as Turkey

Ghalmi, 24 and Darko, 28, were friends who shared a common interest in radical Islam and fighting in Syria.

The documents show that in January 2015, Ghalmi invited Darko to come with him to Syria. The two travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then purchased tickets to fly to Istanbul

Ghalmi later admitted to police they did this on purpose to, in his words, "shuffle the cards." 

The RCMP officer testified that an Islamic State "how to" manual posted online suggested this as a tactic for westerners travelling to Syria, stating: "For safety reasons they buy a ticket for an indirect holiday country … so their destination doesn't look suspicious."
Daniel Darko agreed to sign a peace bond in April 2015. (Radio-Canada)

The two were ultimately refused entry into Turkey. They made their way back to Montreal and were arrested for questioning at Trudeau airport a week later.

Jihad 'legitimate'​

Ghalmi was open with investigators about his motives. He later told them his priority in life was to leave Canada to live on "Muslim soil." He said he felt judged as a Muslim in Montreal because of his long beard and his lifestyle and said of Muslims living in Western countries, "You can't mix oil with vinegar." 

Ghalmi described jihad in Syria as "legitimate" and said that to die as a martyr was the best death.

Investigators described Darko as "arrogant and mocking" during his interrogations and said they caught him in several lies.

Darko's family in denial

Investigators also questioned the two men's families, and they, too, reacted very differently from one another to the circumstances.

Darko's father, Samuel Darko, met investigators briefly a few weeks after his son returned from Turkey. He told investigators that Daniel had travelled to Malaysia without his knowledge, but that he had gone there to help Muslims and he had apologized for leaving. 

A few weeks later, Darko's mother, Emilie Tetteh, told investigators that her son had told her he had travelled to Malaysia for a one-week holiday. She "categorically refused" to believe her son had travelled to Turkey. 

RCMP investigators recovered images from Daniel Darko's phone, including one of the Islamic flag with lions used as a symbol of jihad. (RCMP)

Tetteh told investigators that if she had noticed changes in her son's behaviour or suggestions that he'd been involved in illegal activity, she would have notified police. She said she was sure that her son was not lying to police.

Investigators wrote in their notes they believed Tetteh's refusal to acknowledge that her son had travelled to Turkey demonstrated that her need to protect her son outweighed her ability to face the facts. 

They were convinced she would never report her son to the police.

Ghalmi's family alert authorities

Ghalmi's family, meanwhile, had been aware of his interest in radical Islam and his wish to travel to Syria for years, and they went to great lengths to prevent him from doing so.

Ghalmi had tried to travel to Syria in 2013. He had reached the border town of Adana before his father, Brahim Ghalmi, learned he was there and alerted Turkish authorities. Ghalmi was arrested and detained in Turkey. His father travelled there to pick him up and bring him home to Montreal.

After that, Brahim Ghalmi said, he hid his son's Algerian and Canadian passports, fearing that he would try to leave again.

Brahim Ghalmi told investigators that his son told him he wanted to travel to Syria to do humanitarian work. Ghalmi told the RCMP that "he didn't believe a single word."

In January 2015, Merouane Ghalmi found the passports that his father had hidden, and that's when he set out for Syria a second time.

The day after he left the family home, Ghalmi's sister Imene contacted police and alerted them of her suspicions that he was on his way to Syria to fight.

Both men free

Darko and Ghalmi are no longer subject to the conditions of the peace bonds, including the wearing of electronic monitoring bracelets, as those conditions expired in the spring of 2016.

The RCMP did not request they be renewed.

Neither man has ever faced charges, although a spokesperson for the RCMP said the two are still under investigation.