Politics

Father of 'Jihadi Jack' says he can clear his son's name - but the evidence is sealed

The father of Jack Letts, a young British-Canadian man dubbed "Jihadi Jack" by British media, said information exists that proves his son was not a supporter of the Islamic State — but that information is sealed as part of a court case against him and his wife.

'I need your help to save my son's life,' John Letts tells journalists

John Letts, father of Jack Letts, British Muslim convert and an alleged member of ISIS, announces plans to secure repatriation of Canadians who travelled to Syria during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The father of Jack Letts, a young British-Canadian man dubbed "Jihadi Jack" by British media, said information exists that proves his son was not a supporter of the Islamic State — but that information is sealed as part of a court case against himself and his wife.

The extraordinary claim was made by John Letts during a news conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday, prior to a meeting between Letts and senior officials at Global Affairs Canada.

"For three years we have not been allowed to talk about our case, or counter lies that have been printed about Jack, because of contempt of court rules," Letts said, referring to the charges of funding terrorism filed by British authorities against himself and his wife, Sally Lane.

"I want everyone here to know what we know — that Jack worked with others in the religious opposition to ISIS in Raqqa. He condemned ISIS on social media and he wants to spend the rest of his life living peacefully and bearing witness against ISIS."

Jack Letts at age 20. His family insists he went to Syria to help refugees. (Facebook)

Letts and his wife were charged in early 2016 with sending money overseas, or arranging to do so, when there was reason to believe it could be used in support of terrorism. Their case is still pending.

They maintain their innocence and say they were sending their son cash to get him out of ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, where he had gone as part of a religious quest in 2014.

Letts said Tuesday he's expecting British authorities to arrest him upon his return to the U.K. on Wednesday because he's violated the publication ban surrounding details of the case.

A 'media witch hunt'

"Unfortunately, I do not have any other choice than to speak out because I love my son and I think he's innocent," Letts said.

Alleged Jihadi's father pleads son's case

3 years ago
12:12
John Letts, father of Jack Letts, a young British-Canadian man dubbed "Jihadi Jack" by British media, claims he can prove his son was not a supporter of the Islamic State. 12:12

The fate of Jack Letts and eight other Canadians who left the country to join ISIS has been the subject of furious debate in Parliament.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has attacked the Liberal government for helping Letts and considering his appeal to come to this country.

"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," the Conservative leader said, leading off question period on Oct. 16. "The Liberals proactively reached out to him to help him come to Canada. Why?"

On Tuesday, Letts said he and his wife have been subjected to a "media witch hunt" and their son is guilty only of being a devout Muslim and going to Syria in 2014 to help other Muslims.

"He felt he had a religious duty to help others who were suffering," said John Letts.

The younger Letts is a Muslim convert who grew up in Oxford. His father is Canadian. His mother is a landed immigrant in this country and all of their children hold dual citizenship.

The image painted of Jack by his father, in the news conference and in multiple media interviews this week, stands in stark contrast to the one presented in the House of Commons.

In an open letter to MPs recently, Letts accused Scheer of spreading "lies" about his son, but chose not to renew the attack directly on the opposition leader on Tuesday.

He said he would be the first to condemn Jack if there was proof his son was involved with ISIS, and that those who did fight for ISIS should be brought to justice.

Charity offers to get Canadian detainees home

His case, Letts said, is being conflated with others, such as Canadian ISIS fighter Muhammad Ali, who went by the name Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi.

Ali told Global News earlier this month he wants to return home and is one of at least three Canadians who allegedly travelled to Syria to join ISIS and are now imprisoned by the Kurds.

The Liberal government has said it cannot help with the repatriation because it has no consular support nearby, the region is unstable and officials cannot safely travel there.

Alexandra Bain, director of Families Against Violent Extremism, said her organization helped U.S. officials bring an American woman and her four children home from Kurdish-held territory in Syria in August.

She said her organization and another charity, Reprieve, have offered to do the same thing for the Canadian detainees, but they have been turned down.

Clive Stafford-Smith, the lawyer representing Letts and the founder of Reprieve, is prepared to make the journey to northern Syria and only asks that the Canadian government issue emergency passports that would allow the detainees back into the country.

Bain said she believes the Liberal government is "afraid and they're not sure how to do (it), and we would really like to help because we have done it already."

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale insisted Tuesday that the federal government has no duty to act to secure the detainees' release.

"There is no legal obligation on the government of Canada to repatriate in these circumstances. No offer of repatriation has been made and there's certainly no deal with the Kurds," he said following a cabinet meeting.

Members of the other detainees' families did not appear at Tuesday's news conference "because they greatly fear the negative repercussions of appearing in public," Bain said.

John Letts apparently had no such fear.

"Other countries, including the USA, have brought their citizens home, so why can't Canada?" he said, before addressing the reporters in the room directly.

"I need your help to save my son's life."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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