On Friday in court, a Canadian man admitted to inventing tales about being a fighter against the Islamic State and an executioner in Syria. In return, the Canadian authorities dropped his criminal charges of hoax related to the threat of terrorism.
The man, Shehroz Chaudhry, has been spreading fabricated stories about the life of a terrorist in Syria on social media since 2016, according to an agreed factual statement between the prosecutor’s office and the defense. He then repeated them in several news outlets, including The New York Times, which then expanded on his stories, the statement said.
Chaudhry, now 26, regretfully gave interviews to the media and “wanted to finish school and change my life,” the statement said.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges because Chaudhry’s stories “were errors of immaturity, not sinister intent and certainly not criminal intent,” his lawyer, Nader R. Hasan, wrote in an email.
However, Chaudhry was required to post a so-called $ 10,000 peace bond, which would be canceled if he breached the terms of the deal. The prosecutor was not available for comment.
Under the name Abu Husayf Chaudhry, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Burlington, Ontario, was a central figure in the Times 10-part podcast series “The Caliphate.” The release of this episode in 2018 and other reports based on the stories of Chaudhry caused a political storm in the Canadian parliament among opposition parties who repeatedly attacked the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for allegedly allowing a terrorist killer to roam the streets of the Toronto suburbs. …
But in truth, there was practically no risk to the public. The Fact Sheet presented at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton on Friday concludes: “Mr. Chaudhry has never entered Syria or participated in ISIS operations anywhere in the world. ”
Last year, Chaudhry was arrested in Canada on charges of staging a prank that frightened and intimidated the public. Following his arrest, the Times revisited the Caliphate series and found “a history of misrepresentation by Mr. Chaudhry and no evidence that he committed the atrocities he described on the Caliphate podcast.” According to the Times, the podcast received no support.
A re-examination of the episode showed that “Times reporters were too gullible about the steps taken to verify and ignored the lack of confirmation of substantive aspects of Mr. Chaudhry’s story,” said Danielle Rhodes Ha, a spokeswoman for the Times. “Since then, we have introduced new methods to prevent such mistakes,” she said.
In 2019, the Caliphate received the Foreign Press Club Prize and the Peabody Prize. The Foreign Press Club canceled its award and the Times brought Peabody back. The Pulitzer Prize Council also dropped the podcast as a finalist.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police interviewed Chaudhry in April 2017 – a year before the Caliphate podcast – based on his social media posts. At the time, he told them that he made up his own stories about being an Islamic State militant in Syria.
Despite this admission to the police, he continued to portray himself in media and social media interviews as a former Islamic State fighter almost until his arrest last September.
A statement of fact, presented in court on Friday, said Times journalist Rukmini Kallimachi pushed Chaudhry to spread his false story.
“On occasion, during the podcast, Ms. Kallimachi explicitly encouraged Mr. Chaudhry to discuss violent behavior,” the statement said. “When Mr. Chaudhry expressed his reluctance to do this, she replied, ‘You need to talk about the murders.’ “
Chaudhry’s trial on terrorism hoax charges was set to begin in February. The prosecutor’s office agreed to drop the charges in exchange for his confession, as well as consent to the posting of a pledge of peace and compliance with its terms.
Under the terms of the peace bonds, intended for people who, as the authorities fear, may commit terrorist acts, Chaudhry must stay in Ontario for the next year and live with his parents. He is prohibited from possessing any weapon, he must continue to receive advice and must report any changes to his virtual or physical address to the police.
Instagram posts from 2016 – taken under the name Chaudhry and posted along with an identifiable photo of his face – say Chaudhry traveled to Syria in 2014 and was included in the Amniyat section of the Islamic State group responsible for internal security , “In a little less than a year.”
“I was on the battlefield,” the messages say. “I support brothers fighting on the ground.”
All the while, however, Chaudhry was at his family’s home in Burlington or worked at a restaurant he owns in nearby Oakville, Ontario.
In November 2016, the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based group, compiled Chaudhry’s online terrorist claims into a report that was circulated to Kallimachi and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, among others.
The report prompted an anti-terrorism unit, which included members of various Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Mounties, to launch an investigation into terrorism.
After confirming Chaudhry’s identity by matching an online portrait with a photograph on his driver’s license, the police also obtained his traffic records. In a meeting with police on April 12, 2017, Chaudhry confirmed that he had written the messages.
“He also readily admitted that he had never been to Syria,” reads the joint statement of facts presented in court.
The statement also said that shortly after receiving the research team’s report, Kallimachi emailed Chaudhry to ask if he would share his alleged experiences within the Islamic State group. She soon traveled to Toronto to record interviews that were used for the Caliphate.