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Global Affairs aware of Canadians detained in Syria

Last Updated Feb 9, 2019 at 11:15 pm EDT

Global Affairs Canada says it is aware of Canadian citizens being detained in Syria.

The confirmation comes in the wake of a CNN report which spoke to two women – a college student from Toronto and graphic designer from Alberta – who say they recently fled the former ISIS controlled town of Baghouz Al-Fawqani in eastern Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces said more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the IS-held area as U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian forces launched a final push to defeat the Islamic State group from a small pocket of land near the border with Iraq.

A woman identified by CNN as Dura Ahmed said she left Toronto in 2014 with her husband, claiming she didn’t know anything about ISIS despite studying “English and Middle Eastern studies.”

“It was an easy life. It was a city. It was stable,” she tells CNN about her arrival in Raqqa. “You’re there and you’re eating Pringles and Twix bars. You’re just there. You don’t feel like you’re in a war.”

The Alberta woman, whom CNN says did not identify herself, also claimed not to know anything about ISIS before arriving in Syria. She also left Canada at the insistence of her husband.

“He’s like, ‘it’s obligatory for you to come here. You have no choice, and as your husband I’m telling you to come here.’ And as a Muslim wife you have to obey, even though it was really hard for me to do it,” she tells CNN.

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Richard Walker says given the security situation on the ground in Syria, their ability to provide consular assistance is extremely limited.

“Canadian diplomats have established a communications channel with local Kurdish authorities in order to verify the whereabouts of some Canadian citizens,” he said in a statement to CityNews.

“Reports of an agreement concerning the repatriation of Canadian citizens from Syria are false.”

Even if the two women were able to leave Syria, they would likely face arrest and prosecution in neighbouring countries if they were found to be affiliated with ISIS.

U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that IS has lost 99.5 per cent of its territory and is holding onto fewer than 5 square kilometres in Syria, or less than 2 square miles, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated. But activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The U.S. military has warned the group could stage a comeback if the military and counterterrorism pressure on it is eased.

Files from The Associated Press were used in this report