Montreal jihadi who burned his Canadian passport allegedly held captive by al-Qaida affiliate in Syria

© Provided by National Post Safwan Al-Kanadi, identified as Sami Elabi from Montreal, left Canada to fight in Syria.

Montreal jihadi who burned his Canadian passport allegedly held captive by al-Qaida affiliate in Syria

A Canadian man who fought for the Islamic State — and starred in two of the terror group’s propaganda videos before quitting and disappearing — has been held captive by a militant group in Syria for more than a year, according to a local report.

A man using the battle name Safwan Al-Kanadi but identified as Sami Elabi from Montreal, twice grabbed headlines in recent years, once when he burned and shot his Canadian passport on camera and the other when he said he quit the group, complaining, “There are no limits to the stupidity of the Islamic State.”

Last Thursday, an online report said Safwan Al-Kanadi, a nickname that takes on the designation “the Canadian,” has been held without charge since October 2020 by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria known as HTS.

“Safwan came to Syria some years ago to help the Syrian people and he fought on the frontlines for quite some time. He was very severely injured at one point where he needed months of medical care in order to regain his health and his strength,” says the video report by OGN on YouTube.

“Safwan was arrested last year in October,” said Bilal Abdul Kareen in his report from Syria, tracked by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Washington-based non-profit.

Until now, Kareen said in his report, “no one knows if he is dead or alive.”

“There’s been nothing official that has been put forward regarding Safwan, and if there has been no official charge, of course there’s been no official trial.”

 Safwan Al-Kanadi, a.k.a. Sami Elabi, shows his passport to the camera before lighting it on fire and shooting it in an image from an ISIL propaganda video.

The information on Elabi’s detention could not be confirmed. Global Affairs Canada could not provide information or comment on the case prior to deadline.

Elabi, born in Montreal in 1988 to a Quebec woman and a Syrian man, left Canada to fight in the Syrian civil war in 2013.

He allegedly first fought with the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra before joining its jihadi rivals, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, better known as ISIL or ISIS.

In a notorious 2014 video, he holds up his Canadian passport to the camera before dousing it with a flammable liquid, setting it on fire and then propping it on a ledge and shooting it with an assault rifle.

In another video, he is seen helping to blow up a building, in what looks like a planned demolition rather than an attack. He beams joy and excitement.

He documented some of his journey on social media for a while, with his initial enthusiasm turning to disenchantment. In 2016 he claimed he abandoned ISIL and encouraged people to keep up the fight but with other groups or independently, according to reports.

His posts were later deleted. He has since faded from view.

In the OGN report, Kareen challenges HTS to provide information about Safwan Al-Kanadi and other detainees, to put them on trial or release them — “and to not torture them or pressure them into making false confessions.”

“If they’re guilty, then there should be no problem to put them in front of a judge or a panel of judges which can judge their situation in front of people and the evidence can be examined.”

Kareem, who appears on camera reporting in English, is a U.S. citizen who was himself once detained by HTS, held for six months and released in February, MEMRI said, describing him as a “Syria-based American jihadi reporter.”

Kareem did not respond to a request for comment or more information prior to publication deadline.

“OGN regularly reports on individuals reportedly detained by HTS, alleging the militant group tortures detainees to extract forced confessions,” says a MEMRI briefing. HTS has not publicly addressed the allegations.

OGN recently highlighted other alleged captives of HTS, including French and Indian foreign fighters, suggesting HTS is colluding with Western security forces to keep foreign fighters from leaving Syria.