‘Jihadi Jack,’ stripped of U.K. citizenship, now hopes to come to Canada

Jack Letts, dubbed Jihadi Jack by the media after being accused of travelling to Syria to fight for ISIS, said he’s not surprised Britain stripped him of his citizenship, and that he hopes to return to Canada.

“I’ve always felt I’m a mix. And I’ve been to Canada seven times and I spent a lot of time in Canada,” Letts, 24, said in an exclusive interview with the U.K.-based  ITV News that was published Monday. “My whole family’s Canadian.

“I always expected Canada to help me and they didn’t. I hope Canada does take me from here if they can.”

On the weekend, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale acknowledged reports that Letts, who grew up in Oxford, U.K., had his citizenship revoked, leaving him with just Canadian citizenship. “Canada is disappointed that the United Kingdom has taken this unilateral action to offload their responsibilities,” the minister said in a statement.

Letts’s recent comments are a reversal from what he told ITV News in February, when he said he was not seeking to return to Canada.

“I feel British, I am British. My dad’s Canadian,” he said at the time. “If the U.K. accepted me, I would go back to the U.K., it’s my home, but I don’t think that is going to happen.” 

In prison for 2½ years

Letts, who is being held in a prison in Qamishli in northern Syria along the Turkish border, said he didn’t know Britain had revoked his citizenship until he was informed by ITV News.  

“I’m not surprised. I was expecting something like this, to be honest,” he told ITV News this week. “I’ve been here for two and a half years. They haven’t helped me at all, the British government. Even if they didn’t strip me of my British citizenship, it’s almost as if I’m not a British citizen anyway.”

Asked on Monday about whether Letts would be allowed to come to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t answer, saying only that the government continues to recognize it’s a crime to travel for the purpose of engaging in terrorist activities.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Letts should remain locked up and his party wouldn’t intervene if it wins the October federal election.

“Jihadi Jack is in prison now and that is where he should stay,” Scheer said Monday in a statement. “A Conservative government under my leadership will not lift a finger to bring him back to Canada.”

According to Letts’s father John Letts, who is from southern Ontario but lives in Oxford, the Kurds expressed willingness last year to hand his son over to Canadian authorities. He has also said Global Affairs Canada told the family for months that it was working to get Jack released, but the department then decided it was too dangerous.

Jack became a Muslim convert and travelled to Syria in 2014 to join fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He was captured by the Kurdish YPG militia after escaping the extremist group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, before it fell.

‘Never killed anyone’

Letts told ITV News this week that he’s not a murderer or torturer, just a person who made a stupid mistake, and going to Syria “was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.

I only ever fought the Syrian regime which killed more than a million Syrians– Jack Letts, known as Jihadi Jack

“I never killed anyone though, and I’ve never taken anyone a slave. I’ve never even hurt anyone in ISIS,” he told ITV News. “I only ever fought the Syrian regime which killed more than a million Syrians. 

“I did it with the wrong people. That’s true.”

Leah West, a lecturer in national security law and counterterrorism,​​​​ told CBC’s News Network on the weekend it’s possible Letts could be prosecuted for terrorism offences in Canada. But the case for prosecution faces “hurdles” because Letts originally travelled from Britain — not Canada, said West, who’s at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. 

“There’s crimes in the Criminal Code for leaving Canada to facilitate terrorist activity or to commit offences on behalf of a terrorist organization. Letts doesn’t fall within that category. He’s not susceptible to prosecution for this offence because he did not leave Canada in order to do that.”

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