World News – USA – A compelling ISIS story told on a Times podcast is falling apart


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The gruesome account of a Canadian as the executioner of the Islamic State in Syria, which was the subject of the New York Times podcast « Caliphate », was invented, officials say. A review of the Times found no confirmation of his allegation of atrocities.

He described the murders in great detail – shooting one man in the head and stabbing another in the heart before hanging the body on a cross.

He spoke at length about joining the Islamic State Religious Police in Syria and being taken to a terrorist training course on attacks on the West, including his homeland, North America.

He recounted how Islamic State commanders showed maps and color-coded instructions, and recruits like him showed how to attack key Western targets, get into restricted areas, kill people, and achieve martyrdom.

They imagined « something as spectacular as the 11th. September, « he said. “They wanted to surpass Al Qaeda and make a name for themselves. ”

But Shehroze Chaudhry, the central figure on the New York Times’ 2018 podcast Caliphate, was a fabulist who told jihadist stories about the killing of the Islamic State in Syria, say Canadian and American intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Mr. . Chaudhry, it is said, was not a terrorist, almost certainly never went to Syria, and made up gruesome stories of being an executioner of the Islamic State as part of a Walter Mitty-like escape from his more mundane life in suburban Toronto and in Lahore, Pakistan. where he lived with his grandparents for years.

Mr. . Chaudhry’s detailed reports, shared with the Times and other news outlets, caused political turmoil in Canada. The award-winning « Caliphate » series broadcast his claims of killing for the Islamic State to millions of listeners and fueled indignation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government allowed a terrorist to be released in suburban Toronto despite the crimes to live. Chaudhry had been so open to getting involved in Syria.

Well, Mr.. . Chaudhry’s public statements put him in legal danger. In September the Canadian authorities have Mr.. Chaudhry with a terrorist joke, a criminal complaint that could result in up to five years in prison if convicted.

Persecuting thousands of fighters who have traveled from around the world to fight with the Islamic State is a vast, often murky, endeavor. Before « Caliphate » aired, two American officials told The Times that Mr.. . Chaudhry actually joined IS and moved to Syria. And some of the people who know and have advised Lord. Chaudhry says they have no doubt that he has extremist, jihadist views.

But Canadian law enforcement officers who conducted a nearly four-year investigation into Mr.. . Chaudhry, they say their review of his travel and financial records, social media posts, statements to police and other intelligence agencies make them confident that he has not entered Syria or joined IS, let alone those he described has committed serious crimes.

American officials interviewed for this article support the conclusion that Mr.. . Chaudhry, who turns 26 on Saturday, was never a terrorist threat. It’s hard to say with absolute certainty that he never entered Syria, they warn.

But even if he did, they claim it would have been for a short time – during which he claimed to have joined ISIS, received religious and weapons training, patrolled, sentenced Having carried out executions and participated in secret discussions about the conspiracy of high profile attacks against the West.

« Hoaxes can create fear in our communities and create the illusion that there is a potential threat to Canadians, even though we have determined otherwise, » said Superintendent Christopher deGale, the head of the national security team that conducted the investigation in an explanation of the case.

The « Caliphate » series raised questions about some of Mr.. . Chaudhry’s claims and dedicated an episode of the podcast to them. After the Canadians charged Mr.. Chaudhry with a joke, the Times re-examined his case and took a fresh look at social media posts, photos, travelogues, academic transcripts, and other potential evidence that could shed light on his claim that he joined ISIS and killed for ISIS had Syria.

The review set a schedule for his movements that did not preclude Mr.. Chaudhry went to Syria within a few weeks. However, it also became a story of misrepresentations by Mr.. Chaudhry – including using pictures of fighters in Syria that were available on the internet and sharing them as his own to portray himself as an ISIS member – raises great doubts about his claims. In fact, the review did not reveal any independent confirmation from Mr.. Chaudhry’s participation in the atrocities he allegedly committed on the Caliphate podcast.

As a result of the review, The Times published an editor’s note on Friday that the podcast was « not severe enough » and that the episodes in which Mr.. . Chaudhry’s claims did not meet his standards.

Today, Mr.. . Chaudhry spends much of his time at Big Grill, his family’s doner and kebab shop in a sprawling and busy mall in Oakville, a suburb outside of Toronto.

One last afternoon, Mr.. . Chaudhry was laying toppings and processing takeout orders as a steady stream of customers entered the restaurant. In the window there was a brightly lit picture of a kebab rotisserie next to a note offering free meals to people hungry from the coronavirus pandemic.

« He’s bored, » said Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, to Mr.. . Chaudhry has been for more than three years and believes he joined ISIS in Syria. “His real life is a bit boring. ”

Mr. . Chaudhry declined to comment, his lawyer Nader R. . Hasan said his client would pay the joke fee. According to the law, prosecutors not only have to prove that Mr.. Chaudhry lied, but he also wanted the public to believe that terrorists would cause « death, assault » or significant property damage.

« Mr.. . Chaudhry has been charged with a very serious crime for which he is not guilty. « . Hasan emailed The Times without specifying how he would contest the charges.

Legal experts say sir. Chaudhry’s defense will likely question the second requirement of the hoax – that he intended to instill fear.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Police, and other security agencies began investigating Mr.. . Chaudhry in late 2016 after posting on social media that he had been on the battlefield in Syria for « a little less than a year » and sharing pictures online to foster his image as an ISIS warrior.

Even then, Mr.. . Chaudhry’s social media claims provided little evidence. His research-compiled posts showed photos of silhouetted fighters holding assault rifles in a rugged, rocky landscape. Mr. Chaudhry described the harsh environment as his « humble abode ». ”

But far from it, Mr.. . Chaudhry’s jihadist belief that at least one of the images was a brazen copy of popular news photography, the Times investigation found. The original image was taken months earlier by a photographer from the official Russian news agency Tass and distributed by Getty Images, one of the world’s largest photography providers.

Other pictures Mr. . Chaudhry provided evidence that he had gone to Syria – in particular, snapshots he took of armed men on the beach whom he referred to as his « fellow campaigners » – also turned out to be identical to photos posted on Twitter for years were previously by Syrian antiwar activists, the Times’ audit found. And as with other pictures, Mr.. . Chaudhry misrepresented – or maybe didn’t even know – where and sometimes when they were taken.

Canadian officials did not say exactly when they were convinced that Mr.. . Chaudhry had made up large parts of his story, but they insist it didn’t take long to find out. Ralph Goodale, Canada’s Minister of Public Security from 2015 to 2019, said he had information suggesting that Mr.. Chaudhry’s reports of joining ISIS in Syria were incorrect when The Times aired Caliphate in 2018. Still, Mr.. . Goodale said he could not publicly explain this at this point as the police investigation was ongoing.

« I had reason to believe this person was not what they said they were, » said Mr. . Goodale, who is no longer in politics, said in an email.

Despite the many holes in Mr.. . Chaudhry’s story, confusing and sometimes contradicting intelligence reports circulated about him for years, providing an insight into the daunting challenge officials face in identifying the thousands of foreign fighters who flocked to Syria to join the Islamic State.

A Canadian official who was not involved in the criminal investigation recently described a 2017 intelligence report in which Mr.. Chaudhry – who was known by the name Abu Huzayfah – had traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State. However, the report states that Mr.. Chaudhry had little consequence in the country and left not long after his arrival.

In addition, a senior Iraqi intelligence official recently said a source had Mr.. . Chaudhry in a photo and called him an ISIS fighter in Iraq and Syria who was also detained in Syria and clouded the water even more.

After examining the evidence they gathered, Canadian officials are now confident that Mr.. . Chaudhry never went to Syria and they don’t expect him to argue in court that his claims of being an ISIS hangman are in part true.

Mr. . Chaudhry moved his family from Pakistan to Canada when his uncle said he was less than two years old and grew up in Burlington, a suburb southwest of Toronto. On a matriculation form for a university in Pakistan, Mr.. Chaudhry stated that he graduated from Burlington High School in 2012. His father opened the family restaurant in nearby Oakville.

After high school, Mr.. . Chaudhry traveled to South Africa in 2012 and enrolled in a madrasa, an Islamic school, in a city south of Johannesburg. Photographs Mr.. . Chaudhry introduced the school, their dorms, and himself with other students whom The Times had recently confirmed as admitted to the madrasa.

However, according to his uncle Muhammad Usman, he did not settle in the madrasa. Mr. Chaudhry moved to Pakistan to live with his maternal grandparents, with whom he was closely related. By late 2012, he was enrolled in an environmental science course at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Lahore, according to the school’s records.

He lived in a civil district of Lahore for the next three and a half years and, according to his family and passport, returned to Canada during the school holidays.

« He went to university regularly, » his grandfather Shakil Ahmed told The Times in 2018. “I always picked him up and dropped him off at the bus stop. I used to pick him up from the bus stop on a motorcycle, ”he said at the time. Mr. Ahmed has since died.

On campus, on Mr.. . Chaudhry was studying, students in western and traditional Pakistani clothing mingling freely. Unlike another famous university in Lahore, the University of the Punjab, where Islamist groups closely monitor interactions between men and women, the atmosphere at the University of Lahore is relatively relaxed and informal.

His uncle, Mr.. . Usman said Mr.. . Chaudhry had shown some attraction to the militant culture, but suggested that it be more role-playing than anything serious. « He was just attracted to these guys because he wanted to be a true Muslim, » he said. « He used to be very excited, » he added, wearing « Taliban-style » clothing. ”

Mr. . Chaudhry said on the Caliphate podcast that the brutal civil war in Syria that began in 2011 awakened him to the plight of Muslims around the world and spurred him to action. « You can’t just sit back and watch the world burn, » he said.

First he told The Times that he had flown from Pakistan to Turkey and walked to Syria only to sneak through a hole in a border fence in February 2014 to join the Islamic State. He described his duties in the religious police, patrolled the streets to enforce the group’s harsh interpretation of Islam, and brutally sentenced local residents, sometimes with a metal belt.

He said he had stayed and been in Syria until July 2014 when the then IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the area a caliphate and claimed to revive the Muslim theocracy that came with the fall of the Ottomans ended empire. Mr. Chaudhry described the celebrations in the ISIS-controlled area at that triumphant moment, but said he left Syria afterwards after becoming disillusioned with the group and the killings he had been ordered. So he fled, he said, slipped back over the Turkish border and made his way back to Pakistan.

But the suspicion arose when The Times found no stamps for Turkey in his Canadian passport and discovered that his Pakistani passport had long since expired. Records show that he actually flew from Lahore to Toronto in February 2014, returned to Lahore later that month, and then flew back to Toronto in July 2014 – during the time he said he was in Syria.

Before « Caliphate » aired, The Times confronted Mr.. . Chaudhry with some inconsistencies in his report. Then he changed his story and claimed that he traveled to Syria long after the declaration of the caliphate – sometime « after September 2014 », he finally said on the podcast « Kaliphat ».

But even this version of events is being challenged by his university records, which suggest he went to school in the fall and appears to have little time to go to Syria.

The records show a mediocre student who got into trouble after failing to pay his bus fare and harassed the university for his biology grades. However, his report card shows that he received grades for the fall semester 2014, which ended in January 2015.

Then, weeks later, as records show, he submitted a handwritten note to the university in March 2015 asking for a break from his studies. His family said he had a motorcycle accident in Lahore. His Canadian passport says he left Pakistan a few weeks later, and Facebook posts from Mr.. . Chaudhry, documented by a Canadian journalist before they were shot down, suggested he was back in Canada in April and May.

Mr. . Chaudhry told The Times before « Caliphate » aired in Syria about one of his alleged emirs or commanders. The emir had been the subject of an article in a Swedish publication.

The journalist who wrote the article helped The Times interview the emir for the podcast « Caliphate ». In the interview, the emir said that he recognized Mr. Mr. with some uncertainty. Chaudhry’s face from photos provided by The Times.

But the emir’s account challenged several of mr. Chaudhry’s central claims. The emir described himself as a commander in a different city than the one in which Mr.. . Chaudhry claimed to have been stationed. He rejected the idea that mr. Chaudhry had ever served under him. And he said that mr. Chaudhry most likely had a military role and undercut a major element of Mr.. . Chaudhry’s story – that he was a religious cop, not a battlefield soldier. Some of these inconsistencies were not included in the “Caliphate” podcast.

The emir later sent a short voice message from a second ISIS official claiming to remember Mr.. Chaudhry. The Times never interviewed the person face-to-face, but made their claims in Caliphate. And as noted on the podcast, The Times has not independently verified the identities of these alleged officials or verified the veracity of their accounts.

In addition, the « Caliphate » podcast said the second ISIS official had provided inside information about Mr.. . Chaudhry – specifically that he was Canadian – he hadn’t been given that in advance. However, in its later review, The Times found that Mr.. . Chaudhry’s nationality was already known to the emir during his interview for the “Caliphate. The emir then contacted the second officer to see if he was Mr.. . Chaudhry.

If Mr.. . Chaudhry’s social media posts caught the attention of the Canadian police in 2016. It was a high priority for the authorities to catch people who had gone abroad to join ISIS and to charge them under the laws of terrorism. For the mounted police, sir. Chaudhry’s social media posts promised that they could bring a case against a Canadian citizen.

Officials said the first steps of the investigation would have Mr.. . Chaudhry’s pool of online activity, travel dates, and other information from multiple countries to help determine whether he actually entered Syria via Turkey or Iraq – the two most common entry points for foreign fighters traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State.

As the investigation continued, Mr.. Chaudhry returned to his life in Burlington. Before « Caliphate » aired, he told The Times that he had resumed his studies at a Canadian university. But Canadian officials say their investigation found no evidence that he was a student in Canada.

The police and others have tried Mr.. . Chaudhry from his radical views. Such individuals include Mubin Shaikh, who is known in Canada for his work as a paid police informant in a group known as Toronto 18. Its members had planned a lavish wave of terrorist attacks in Canada.

Mr. . Shaikh, who is now acting as a guide on deradicalization, said he had Mr.. . However, Chaudhry broke up with him because he believed that Mr.. . Chaudhry would not give up his views. He believes the stories Mr.. . Chaudhry said they were “fantasies. ”

« He’s one hundred percent an ISIS supporter, » said Mr.. . Saikh said. « So it looks like he’s made up a fantasy. I can see how that happens. They use this ISIS stuff every day. You have no life, no friends, nothing real. ”

But Mr.. . Amarasingam, the professor who advised Lord. Chaudhry rejects the idea that the young man is a con. « You’d have to be some kind of sociopath to literally make up a story like this in your head, have all the details, and then tell hundreds of people about it for months, or dozens of people, and just keep going nicely, » Mr.. . Said Amarasingam. “That seems crazy to me. ”

He says he will keep in touch with Mr.. . Chaudhry and has spoken to him since his arrest. « He was upset that his name was public and his face was public because now it’s going to be difficult to find a job or difficult to prove to be when he’s in a relationship, » said Mr. . Said Amarasingam. « I think he’s definitely pro-jihadist, probably a little pro-ISIS, although he criticizes them. He still talks very nostalgically in strange ways about the people he knew there. ”

In May, a special National Security Unit led by Mounted Police investigated whether Mr.. Chaudhry had traveled to Syria to join or help ISIS – crimes in Canada – authorities decided to continue the hoax, officials say.

On Sept.. . 25, they say the police have arrived at the Chaudhry family’s rented house. Minutes later, sir. Chaudhry was put in a car where he was told that he had been arrested under a terrorism joke section of Canadian criminal law.

He was allowed to return to his house without any other conditions. His lawyer would be Mr.. . Chaudhry’s legal strategy in this case, other than saying that “He intends to defend himself vigorously. ”

Salman Masood, Mona El-Naggar and Falih Hassan contributed to the coverage. Susan Beachy and Jack Begg have contributed to the research.

Podcast, New York Times, Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times Company

World News – USA – An exciting ISIS story, told in a Times Podcast, falls apart


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