Power & Politics

It's 'imperative' that Canada repatriate its detained ISIS fighters, says Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his administration has been clear with the Canadian government that the U.S. wants Canada to bring home its own citizens who joined ISIS and are now detained in Syria.

'We've been clear with the Canadian government. We want them to take their people back.'

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to CBC News' Vassy Kapelos in Ottawa on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Andrew Lee, CBC News)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today pointedly called on Canada to repatriate Canadian citizens who joined ISIS and are now detained in Syria.

"We want every country to take their citizens back. That's step one. It's imperative that they do so," said Pompeo in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics. "Each country needs to take responsibility for their own citizens that travelled to Syria and fought as terrorists.

"We've been clear with the Canadian government. We want them to take their people back."

The top U.S. diplomat's remarks came one day after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to release captured ISIS fighters into Europe.

"We're holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now. And Europe has to take them. And if Europe doesn't take them, I'll have no choice but to release them into the countries from which they came. Which is Germany and France and other places," said Trump.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday on Power & Politics that the federal government will ensure that the law is applied, but Canada is not legally obliged to facilitate the return of Jack Letts, a captured Canadian citizen accused of joining ISIS.

Goodale said that the Canadian government's first obligation is to national security and the safety of Canadians.

Pompeo seemed to disagree with that stance Thursday.

"With respect to when we catch a terrorist — every nation has an obligation to make sure that they are not returned to the battlefield," he said.

The top U.S. diplomat refused to discuss whether the Canadian government has given the American government any assurances that Canada will repatriate these citizens.

Letts, born in Britain, held dual British-Canadian citizenship until it was stripped away by London earlier this week.  He is currently being held in northern Syria by Kurdish forces.

Letts' father John published an 1,800 word open letter this week accusing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of spreading "lies" about his son, dubbed "Jihadi Jack" by the British media.

"I accused Mr. Scheer of lying to Canadians because he knew very well that there was no evidence that our son was ever a member of ISIS or participated in violence in Syria," the letter said.

"Mr. Scheer and his colleagues have continued to spread lies about our son in order to appear to be 'tough on terrorism' ... Our son's real name is Jack Letts, not 'Jihadi Jack'. He was never a fighter and did not go to Syria to fight for ISIS. Just because the tabloid media have made this claim for five years does not make it true.

"This posturing is putting Canadian lives in danger, and it is irresponsible of Mr. Scheer — and the U.K. government — to pass the buck and let other countries deal with this issue."

John Letts appeared to agree with Pompeo's argument that nations have a responsibility to take back citizens who are accused of travelling overseas to fight for terrorist organizations.

"We think it is cowardly of Mr. Scheer to abandon the handful of Canadian citizens detained in Syria who may — or may not — have been involved in terrorism, and to expect other countries in the region to solve Canada's problems," he wrote.

In an interview with British broadcaster ITV this week, Jack Letts said going to Syria was probably the most foolish thing he has ever done and that he never killed anyone or took slaves. He said he went to Syria to fight the Syrian regime.

This isn't the first time John Letts has gone after Scheer. In October 2018, he sent an open letter to members of Parliament accusing Scheer of pushing a "blatant lie" about his son's actions in Syria.

"If Mr. Scheer has any evidence that our son is a 'known jihadi fighter' he has a duty to report this information to the Canadian and British authorities," Letts wrote. "No such evidence has ever been passed to us, or to our lawyers in the U.K."

With files from Peter Zimonjic

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