2021-10-10 00:02:30 Canadian Admits Fabricating Terrorism Tale Detailed in New York Times Podcast

Canadian Admits Fabricating Terrorism Tale Detailed in New York Times Podcast

OTTAWA, ONTARIO — On Friday, a Canadian man admitted in court that he made up stories about his time as an Islamic State fighter and executioner in Syria. In exchange, Canadian authorities dropped criminal charges against him for staging a terrorism-related hoax.

According to an agreed statement of facts between prosecutors and the defense, the man, Shehroze Chaudhry, began spreading fabricated stories of life as a terrorist in Syria on social media in 2016. He then repeated them to several news outlets, including The New York Times, which amplified his stories, according to the statement.

Mr. Chaudhry, now 26, had grown tired of giving interviews to the media and “wanted to finish school and turn his life around,” according to the statement.

Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges because Mr. Chaudhry’s stories “were mistakes born of immaturity — not sinister intent and certainly not criminal intent,” according to his lawyer, Nader R. Hasan, in an email.

Mr. Chaudhry was, however, required to post a $10,000 so-called peace bond, which would be forfeited if he violated the terms of the agreement. The prosecutor could not be reached for comment right away.

Mr. Chaudhry, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Burlington, Ontario, went by the alias Abu Huzayfah and was the central figure in The Times’ 10-part podcast series “Caliphate.” The publication of that series, as well as other reports based on Mr. Chaudhry’s stories, sparked a political firestorm in Canada’s Parliament, with opposition parties repeatedly criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for appearing to allow a terrorist killer to freely roam the streets of suburban Toronto.

Shehroze Chaudhry as seen in a photo from one of his now-defunct social media accounts.

However, there was little to no risk to the general public. Mr. Chaudhry has never entered Syria or participated in ISIS operations anywhere in the world, according to the facts presented in the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton on Friday.

Mr. Chaudhry was arrested in Canada last year on suspicion of perpetrating a hoax that terrified and threatened the public. The Times re-examined the ‘Caliphate’ series after his arrest and discovered “a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described in the ‘Caliphate’ podcast.” According to The New York Times, the podcast did not hold up.

According to Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokeswoman, the re-examination of the series found that “Times journalists were too credulous about the verification steps that were undertaken and dismissive of the lack of corroboration of essential aspects of Mr. Chaudhry’s account.” “Since that time, we’ve implemented new practices to avoid similar lapses,” she explained.

In 2019, “Caliphate” received an Overseas Press Club award as well as a Peabody Award. The Overseas Press Club revoked its honor, and The New York Times returned the Peabody. The Pulitzer Prize Board also revoked the podcast’s status as a finalist.

Based on information from his social media postings, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police interviewed Mr. Chaudhry in April 2017 — a year before the “Caliphate” podcast. He told them at the time that he made up his stories about being an ISIS fighter in Syria.

Despite that admission to police, he continued to portray himself as a former Islamic State fighter in news media interviews and on social media almost up until his arrest in September of last year.

According to the factual statement presented in court on Friday, a Times journalist, Rukmini Callimachi, pushed Mr. Chaudhry to spin his false narrative.

According to the statement, “at times during the podcast, Ms. Callimachi expressly encouraged Mr. Chaudhry to discuss violent acts.” “When Mr. Chaudhry expressed reluctance, she said, ‘You need to talk about the killings.'”

The trial for Mr. Chaudhry on terrorist hoax charges was set to begin in February. Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges in exchange for his confession and agreement to post the peace bond and abide by its terms.

Mr. Chaudhry is required to stay in Ontario for the next year and live with his parents under the terms of the peace bond, which is reserved for people who authorities believe may commit terrorist acts. He is prohibited from possessing any weapons, must continue to receive counseling, and must notify the police of any changes in his virtual or physical addresses.

According to the facts, even if Mr. Chaudhry’s claims of participating in Islamic State executions were false, “they provide reasonable grounds to fear that Mr. Chaudhry may commit a terrorism offense.”

Mr. Hasan, Mr. Chaudhry’s attorney, stated that his client has “acknowledged that he made mistakes.”

Beginning in 2016, Instagram posts under Mr. Chaudhry’s name and accompanied by an identifiable photograph of his face stated that Mr. Chaudhry had traveled to Syria in 2014 and been made a member of the Islamic State’s Amniyat section, a group responsible for internal security, “for a bit less than a year.”

“I’ve been on the front lines,” the posts said. “I stand by the brothers who are fighting on the ground.”

Mr. Chaudhry, on the other hand, had been at his family’s home in Burlington or working at a restaurant owned by his family in neighboring Oakville, Ontario.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based organization, compiled Mr. Chaudhry’s online claims of terrorist activity into a report that was distributed to Ms. Callimachi and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, among others, in November 2016.

The terrorism investigation was launched as a result of that report, which prompted an anti-terrorism unit comprised of members from various Canadian law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Mounties.

The police obtained Mr. Chaudhry’s travel records after confirming his identity by matching an online portrait to the photo on his driver’s license. Mr. Chaudhry confirmed writing those posts during a meeting with police on April 12, 2017.

According to the joint statement of facts presented in court, “he also readily admitted that he never went to Syria.”

According to the statement, Ms. Callimachi emailed Mr. Chaudhry shortly after receiving the research group’s report, asking if he would speak about his alleged experiences inside the Islamic State. She soon traveled to Toronto to conduct interviews for “Caliphate.”

The decision to drop the charges, according to Errol P. Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, suggested that prosecutors and the judge concluded that Mr. Chaudhry was not a threat, but rather “an immature young man who basically made up a lot of stuff and tried to convince people that he was far more influential than he was.”

In an email, Mr. Hasan, the defense lawyer, stated that the case’s resolution “takes into account the tremendous strides that Mr. Chaudhry has made over the past two years.”

“Despite the worldwide media attention and stress of a criminal charge,” he wrote, “Mr. Chaudhry has managed to graduate from university and maintain full-time employment.”

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Canadian Admits Fabricating Terrorism Tale Detailed in New York Times Podcast