Two Montrealers who earlier this year traveled to the Middle East with the alleged intent of joining the so-called Islamic State (IS) have reportedly returned to Canada.
In January, a group of four men and two women, aged 18 and 19, from the Montreal area traveled to Turkey and then Syria with the hope of fighting for IS. But according to a report in the Montreal Gazette, citing government documents obtained through a freedom of information request, a total of eight individuals from Montreal left Canada in January to join in terrorist activities — and two of them returned to the country sometime prior to March 6.
Briefing notes, quoted by the Gazette, from Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Bob Paulson's March 6 address to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, also state that two of the people who left Canada had previously come to the RCMP's attention. "The RCMP is aware that a total of eight individuals from the Montreal area left Canada in January 2015 with the intention of traveling to participate in terrorist activities. Only two of these individuals were known to the RCMP prior to their departure. We know that two of the eight individuals have since returned to Canada with the remaining six believed to be in Syria," the Gazette quotes the notes as stating.
The Quebec RCMP told VICE News that they had no knowledge of this issue prior to being contacted by the Gazette several days ago. National RCMP spokesperson Annie Delisle would not confirm the veracity of the quoted document nor provide any other information about the two unidentified Quebecers, their present whereabouts or whether they are the subjects of RCMP scrutiny.
"The RCMP does not confirm if certain individuals are the subject of an investigation unless criminal charges are laid," Delisle told VICE News.
She did, however, say that a request for the quoted document "should be processed fairly quickly since it's already been released."
In April, two Montreal 18-year-olds were arrested under suspicion of terrorism. Boyfriend and girlfriend Sabrine Djaermane and El Mahdi Jamali were arraigned on April 20. They face charges of possessing explosives, attempting to leave the country to commit a terrorist act, and planning a terrorist act under the direction of a terrorist organization. The couple attended Collège de Maisonneuve, the same Montreal school where several of the teenagers who left for the Middle East in January studied.
In May, a group of 10 youths were detained and had their passports confiscated at Montreal's Trudeau airport for allegedly trying to join jihadist groups in Syria. No charges have so far been laid and the teens are believed to be in their parents' custody.
These preventative arrests are made possible by the 2013 Combatting Terrorism Act, which makes it a crime to leave or attempt to leave Canada to engage in terrorism. Crimes charged under the law can warrant sentences of 10 to 14 years in prison.
In an effort to provide a solution to the radicalization of Montreal youth, other than putting them in handcuffs, Mayor Denis Coderre announced in May that the city would create an anti-radicalization center. The $2-million center will be directed by Herman Deparice-Okomba, who spent three decades working for the Montreal police department as a specialist in cultural and race relations and will be staffed by 12 to 14 people, including social workers and psychologists. It is set to open fully in September.
_Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter: _@JZbleiberg
Watch the VICE News Documentary, The Islamic State: