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The ISIS mechanic: Man now living in B.C. fixed trucks for terror group. Is he complicit in war crimes?

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The ISIS mechanic Man now living in B.C. fixed trucks for terror group. Is he complicit in war crimes

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Flying its black flags, the Islamic State group advanced across Syria and Iraq in convoys of pickups and SUVs, some mounted with heavy guns and reinforced with metal plates.

Vehicles were central to the ISIS campaign, but like any trucks, they broke down, and mechanics were needed to keep them on the road.

Mechanics like Boutros Massroua.

For several months in 2015, the Lebanese national repaired ISIS vehicles, both in the Bekaa Valley, where he lived, and across the border in Syria.

He wasn’t a member of ISIS. A Catholic, he had to remove his crucifix before going to work so as not to provoke his fanatical employers. But he was well paid.

Now, the 54-year-old is living in British Columbia and fighting Canadian government accusations he was complicit in the crimes against humanity of ISIS.


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Global News first reported on the case on April 18 without identifying Massroua because the government had removed his name from his refugee file.

But Global News has since obtained documents, publicly put into the court record by Massroua himself, that identify him by name and provide a fuller picture of his past.

The Canada Border Services Agency would not answer questions about the case. The Vancouver lawyer representing Massroua also declined to comment.

But in Vancouver, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) ruled he had committed a crime against humanity, making him ineligible for refugee status.

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IRB member Michal Fox wrote that ISIS needed Massroua’s automotive expertise and that by working for the terrorist group he had “willingly and knowingly” contributed to ISIS.

“If it weren’t for the principal claimant’s work on these armed vehicles, these vehicles would not be returning to Syria with guns on top of them — to shoot unarmed women, children, men of every religion, to blow up buildings,” Fox wrote.

“This is a significant contribution to the entire war effort of ISIS.”

The decision was upheld on appeal and is now before the courts.


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While Canada has prosecuted a handful of ISIS supporters, the Massroua case is unusual in that the government is using war crime laws against an alleged ISIS collaborator.

Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, said that precedent should be applied to those who left Canada to join ISIS and were captured.

“That his appeal was rejected and that he was found to be complicit in crimes against humanity is a victory for human rights and should help guide how the Canadian government moves forward in dealing with its citizens who joined ISIS and have returned to Canada,” he said.

“ISIS has carried out the most horrific mass atrocity crimes in Syria and Iraq, and Canadians, male and female, who travelled to the Middle East to join the group are equally complicit as the Lebanese asylum-seeker.”

A woman stands at her tent door in an informal camp for Syrian refugees in the eastern Bekaa Valley town of Zahle, Lebanon, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Massroua is from Zahle, a Lebanese city near the Syrian border. He worked as a mechanic for a small company. His wife was an accountant at a Catholic school.

In December 2014, a man named Abou Mohamed brought an SUV to Massroua and was impressed with his skills.

“He liked my work because I am a specialist in difficult repairs and was able to do the repairs with ease where the other mechanics had failed,” Massroua wrote in his refugee claim.

Mohamed brought Massroua more vehicles and then asked him to come to Majdal Anjar, a town on the Syrian border.

Massroua agreed and worked on vehicles while also overseeing other mechanics. Before long, he was taken to a new location.


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It was a big covered parking lot that contained up to 20 jeeps and four-by-fours that had been repainted and reinforced with metal plates and bars.

None had licence plates. Some had bullet holes in their sides. He saw a military weapon in one and noticed the people wore long beards and spoke in Syrian or Iraqi accents.

Despite the indications he was working for ISIS, he returned repeatedly, always at night. Each time, he was patted down, and his phone was taken away, but he was happy to comply and he made good money.

For a single night, he was paid as much as US$400 — roughly half his monthly salary at his daytime job.

ISIS had bigger plans for him. Because Massroua was a Christian, and therefore less likely to arouse suspicions, ISIS wanted to send him to China and arranged a visa.

“They wanted me to buy something for them,” he said.

He did not know what but he had increasing cause for suspicion. He was working on a truck when he smelled blood inside. “I looked around me and saw blood, some of which accidentally got on my hands,” he wrote.

“It was still sticky.”

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He fixed the truck anyway but said he subsequently made excuses not to return. Gunmen would then come to his house to take him to the vehicles, he said.

“Three times they took me into Syria to do repairs there,” he wrote. “I was convinced by then that they were ISIS.”

But according to the IRB, Massroua knew from the outset who he was working for, and the evidence only grew over time. He was also explicitly warned that his employer was ISIS.

A member of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which was fighting ISIS, came to Massroua’s house and gave him a week to stop working for ISIS.

By then, Massroua said, he and his wife had decided to leave the country. His wife had a sister in Canada, and she sent a letter of invitation.


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Four days later, however, Massroua was back at it. He spent the night fixing ISIS vehicles, returning home at 6 a.m.

Hezbollah paid him another visit and threatened him, he said. They said they knew he had been with ISIS again. They told him the exact time he had come home so he knew he was being watched.

But when ISIS came back to his house to take him to Syria, he went with them again — unwillingly, he claimed, although their vehicle got a flat and they never made it.

Two Hezbollah members soon showed up at his workplace and drove him to a place called Turbul. This time, according to Massroua, they wanted him to keep working for ISIS so he could spy on the group.

ISIS came again that night and took him to the repair facility, then into Syria to fix an SUV.

“Once I was done, they took me back home, around 2 a.m.,” Massroua said.

The next morning, Hezbollah said they were going to place a recording device on him. Massroua claimed they threatened to kill him and his wife if he didn’t co-operate.

Canadian citizens queue up outside the Canadian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon Monday, July 17, 2006 hoping to be evacuated from the Lebanese capital. (AP Photo)

With their Canadian visitor visas approved, Massroua and his wife drove to Beirut, picked them up at the embassy and caught the 1 a.m. flight out of Lebanon on May 23.

The windows of his wife’s car were later smashed and their house was ransacked, according to Massroua.

“Both sides want me now,” he wrote in his refugee claim.

His past quickly became an issue in Canada. At a hearing in Vancouver on May 4, 2016, the government argued Massroua was inadmissible to Canada for being a member of ISIS.

The IRB disagreed, saying he wasn’t a member, but following a separate hearing five months later, the agency ruled he was complicit in crimes against humanity.

The decision said Massroua had done it for the money and was hired by ISIS because of his expertise in vehicle electronics and transmissions.

“He was needed to get those vehicles with arms on top of them and bullet holes on the outside of them in working order so that they could be used again for military ISIS purposes,” the IRB wrote.


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The IRB dismissed the claim that Massroua was working for ISIS under duress, noting he had the cash he’d earned from ISIS and two cars and could have fled anytime.

“Even after Hezbollah told him to stop working for ISIS at first, the claimant didn’t stop working for ISIS,” Fox wrote on Oct. 12, 2016.

“The claimant stayed put at his home waiting for more ISIS work until he finally left the country in late May 2016. He had worked for ISIS for at least three full months.”

When Massroua decided to leave home, nobody tried to stop him, the IRB noted.

“There is no defence of duress,” the board concluded.

The Refugee Appeal Division concurred in a ruling handed down in December. Massroua is now fighting the matter in the Federal Court in Vancouver, arguing he was coerced into working for ISIS.

He “took immediate steps to safely remove himself from this sporadic after-hours work once he knew that this was likely a criminal operation,” his lawyer wrote.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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FOREIGN NEWS

Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA

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FOREIGN NEWS

Harris accepts VP nomination

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Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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FOREIGN NEWS

Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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