Islamic State claims fighter killed in airstrike was electronics store worker from Alberta

Adrian Humphreys
Adrian Humphreys

National Post

An Islamic State-linked media outlet has published a fond eulogy for an ISIL fighter who appears to be a previously unknown Canadian who traveled from Alberta to the so-called caliphate where he died in a coalition airstrike.

The man, who adopted Al-Kanadi as part of his nom de guerre to mark his Canadian roots, worked at an electronics store in the province before his radicalization, the notice says.

The Arabic language death notice, often referred to as a “martyrdom notice,” was published online Wednesday by the Al-Muhajireen Foundation, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors terrorist communications.

His name is rendered as Abu Abd Al-Aziz Al-Kanadi. Communiqués from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant use fighters’ kunya — a nom de guerre or nickname — rather than their actual birth names. Al-Kanadi means “the Canadian” in Arabic and several ISIL fighters from Canada have used it as part of their kunya.

There are only a few details of his life in Canada in the eulogy, according to a translation by MEMRI.

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The notice says he was born into a Pakistani family in Alberta and raised as a Muslim.

“He received a proper Islamic upbringing,” the notice says.

It claims he worked in an electronics store, which a relative owned, and that his “journey to jihad” began with a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

There, the notice says, he witnessed huge crowds of fellow Muslims who seemed oblivious to the grievances being committed against Muslims in “Palestine, Iraq, and Syria.” In response, he began searching for a true Muslim country.

He started reading widely, including books and studies written by clerics and scholars, whom he had never encountered before, the notice said. His search also brought him to jihadi figures like Osama bin Laden and Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi, a violent jihadist militant who helped found ISIL.

In 2014, when the fighters gained ground in Iraq and Syria, they declared the founding of a caliphate, an Islamic state, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph. Amid its grand ambitions, ISIL, also known as ISIS, demanded that all Muslims “pledge allegiance” and gather together.

Abu Abd Al-Aziz Al-Kanadi, the notice says, heeded that call.

Along with other men — who are not identified, nor revealed as fellow Canadians or not — immigrated to ISIL territory through Turkey.

That’s a really long time to remain alive

 

Once there, he was assigned to the ISIL media unit because of his linguist abilities; he was fluent in French, English and Urdu. He also had experience with media equipment, the notice says, presumably a reference to electronic gear he sold at the Alberta store.

“There is a lot we don’t know about him,” said Elliot Zweig, deputy director of MEMRI.

“He’s not somebody who was previously known to us or seen written about in ISIL materials or Canadian. The notice gives only his province, not his city or town.

“It’d be nice to know his legal name, his age, his city, when he was killed.”

The notice focuses more on his journey to join ISIL and his contributions to the cause than on his past life in the West. The notice emphasizes his language abilities and his propaganda work and praised him for having “convinced people to immigrate to the Islamic State,” it says, according to the MEMRI translation.

“ISIL is a recruiting outfit, almost first and foremost,” Zweig said. “Having someone with fluency in three languages would be seen as helpful to them.”

An Arabic-language eulogy for an Islamic State fighter killed in a coalition airstrike is said to from Alberta.MEMRI

It is not know if Abu Abd Al-Aziz Al-Kanadi was part of the so-called Calgary Cluster — a group of men from the Alberta city who left Canada to join ISIL. At least five of the Calgary men have been named and now declared dead. Other known Canadian ISIL fighters came from Edmonton, also declared dead.

Michael Zekulin, a terrorism researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra who studied Alberta jihadi while at the University of Calgary, said that until a birth name is known, identifying who this is will be difficult.

The biographical details of this man do not smoothly match the known backgrounds of any of the known Alberta ISIL fighters, suggesting he could be a new name, Zekulin said.

If the death is recent, then this man was a rarity among the fighters.

“That’s a really long time to remain alive. If this is new and he left back in 2013 or 2014, that’s the longest I can think of in terms of being alive among these guys,” he said.

If he survived that long, Zekulin said it was likely because he was protected in the media wing.

“The propaganda value these guys can bring with their language skills or specialization is way more valuable than as cannon fodder. Those with media skills or web skills were more protected.”