Canadian admits to fabricating detailed terrorism story in New York Times podcast

Ottawa – A Canadian man admitted in court Friday that he fabricated stories about serving as an Islamic State fighter and executioner in Syria. In return, Canadian authorities dropped criminal charges against him of a hoax involving the threat of terrorism.

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

The statement said Mr Choudhury, now 26, regretted giving the interview to the news media and “wanted to finish school and change his life.”

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

However, Mr Chaudhry was required to post a so-called peace bond for $10,000, which would be forfeited if the terms of the deal were violated. The prosecutor was not immediately available for comment.

Under the name Abu Huzaifah, Mr. Chaudhry, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Burlington, Ontario, was the central figure in The Times’ 10-part podcast series “Caliphate”. The release of that series in 2018, and other reports based on Mr. Chowdhury’s stories, sparked a political storm among opposition parties in Canada’s parliament, which demanded the prime minister to allow a terrorist killer to roam freely on suburban streets. The minister repeatedly attacked the government of Justin Trudeau. Toronto.

But in reality, there was little if not any risk to the public. The statement of facts presented at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton on Friday concluded: “Mr. Chowdhury never entered Syria nor participated in ISIS operations anywhere in the world.

Last year, Mr. Chowdhury was arrested in Canada on charges of committing a fraud that scared and intimidated the public. Following his arrest, The Times re-examined the ‘Khilafat’ series and found “a history of misrepresentation by Mr. Chowdhury and no confirmation that he committed the atrocities described in the ‘Khilafat’ podcast.” The Times said the podcast didn’t stop.

A re-examination of the series found that “The Times journalists were too credulous about the verification steps and were dismissive of the lack of confirmation of essential aspects of Mr Chaudhry’s account,” said Danielle Rhodes Ha, a spokeswoman for The Times. . “Since that time, we have introduced new practices to prevent similar defaults,” she said.

In 2019, “Chilafat” won an Overseas Press Club award and a Peabody Award. The Overseas Press Club revoked its award and The Times returned Peabody. The Pulitzer Prize Board also revoked its recognition of the podcast as a finalist.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police interviewed Mr Chowdhury in April 2017 – a year before the “Khilafat” podcast – based on information about his social media postings. At the time, he told them that he had fabricated his own story of being an ISIS fighter in Syria.

Despite being admitted to the police, he continued to portray himself as a former Islamic State fighter in news media interviews and on social media until his arrest in September last year.

The statement of facts presented in court on Friday said that Rukmini Calimachi, a journalist for the Times, induced Mr. Choudhury to spread his false story.

“Several times during the podcast, Ms. Calimachi explicitly encouraged Mr. Chowdhury to discuss violent acts,” the statement said. “When Mr Choudhury expressed his reluctance to do so, he replied, ‘You need to talk about the killings’.”

Mr Chowdhury’s trial on terrorist fraud charges was due to begin in February. Prosecutors agreed to release him in exchange for his confession, as well as his consent to post the peace bond and comply with its terms.

Under the terms of the peace bond, which is reserved for those who officials fear may commit terrorist acts, Mr. Choudhury must live in Ontario for the next year and live with his parents. He is prohibited from owning any weapon, must continue to receive counseling and is required to report any change in his virtual or physical address to the police.

The statement of facts said that even though the stories of Mr. Chowdhury participating in the Islamic State executions have been untrue, “they provide reasonable grounds for the fear that Mr. Chowdhury may be committing a crime of terrorism.”

Mr. Chowdhury’s lawyer, Mr. Hassan, said his client “confessed that he made mistakes.”

An Instagram post that began in 2016 – created under Mr. Chaudhry’s name and posted with a recognizable photo of his face – said Mr. Chowdhury had traveled to Syria in 2014 and was found to be part of the Islamic State’s Amniyat section. was created, a group responsible for internal security. , “For a little less than a year.”

“I’ve been on the battlefield,” Posts said. “I support the brothers fighting on the ground.”

However, the entire time, Mr. Choudhury lived at his family’s home in Burlington or worked at a restaurant in neighboring Oakville, Ontario.

In November 2016, the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based group, compiled online claims of Mr. Chowdhury’s terrorist activity into a report, which was distributed to Ms. Calimachi and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

That report prompted the Anti-Terrorism Unit, along with members of various Canadian law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, to open a terrorism investigation.

After verifying his identity by matching an online picture with the photo on Mr Choudhary’s driving licence, police also obtained his travel records. In a meeting with the police on April 12, 2017, Mr Choudhary confirmed that he had written those posts.

“He also admitted that he never visited Syria,” according to the joint statement of facts presented in the court.

The statement also said that soon after receiving the research group’s report, Ms. Calimachi emailed Mr. Chowdhury asking if he would speak about his alleged experiences inside Islamic State. She soon went to Toronto to record interviews used for “Caliphate”.

Errol P., professor of law at the University of Ottawa. Mendes said the decision to drop the charges suggested that the prosecutor and judge concluded that Mr Chaudhry was not a threat, but “an immature young man who basically did a lot of stuff and tried to convince people that That he is more influential than that.”

Defense lawyer Mr Hassan said in an email that the resolution of the case “takes into account the tremendous progress Mr Choudhary has made over the past two years.”

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

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