RCMP say Canadian woman returning from Syria faces terrorism charges, arrested in Montreal

By The Canadian Press

A Quebec woman who allegedly travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group has been repatriated from Syria and will face terrorism charges, the RCMP said Wednesday.

Oumaima Chouay faces four charges of leaving Canada to participate in the activity of a terrorist group, participation in the activity of a terrorist group, providing property or services for terrorism purposes and conspiracy to participate in the activity of a terrorist group.

The RCMP said in a statement that Chouay, 27, had been under investigation by the police force’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team since November 2014.

Insp. David Beaudoin says the arrest is the culmination of that investigation after Chouay left Canada in 2014. The repatriation was organized by the Canadian government.

“According to the investigation, Ms. Chouay allegedly travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State terrorist group,” Beaudoin said outside RCMP headquarters in Montreal. “In Syria, it is alleged she participated in terrorist activities in the name of the Islamic State.”

In November 2017, the RCMP says, Chouay was taken prisoner by the Syrian Democratic Forces and held at the Roj Camp until her return to Canada, along with her two children who were born while she was overseas.

Beaudoin said the children have been an area of concern for investigators since the beginning of the probe.

“We have taken extensive measures to ensure they receive the proper support, at this point they are in the care of the CIUSSS (regional health board) and also the family has been solicited to take part in the response to ensure they get the best support possible,” Beaudoin said.

Chouay was arrested by the Mounties at about 2 a.m. Wednesday after landing at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport. She is expected to appear in court Wednesday afternoon via video conference from RCMP headquarters.

Beaudoin said he could not comment on the case of Kimberly Polman, a British Columbia woman who was repatriated with Chouay, referring questions to federal authorities in that province.

Polman’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said he spoke to her after she landed in Montreal and his understanding is that federal authorities will be seeking a peace bond imposing conditions on her release. He said she is en route to Vancouver.

“At that point, I expect she will be brought before a justice of the peace and will enter into a recognizance,” Greenspon said.

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that four Canadians, two women and two children, were transferred from the camp in northeastern Syria. The department thanked the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for “its co-operation and recognizes its efforts in providing care for the detained individuals under an extremely difficult security situation and adverse circumstances.”

Canada also thanked the U.S. for its assistance with the operation.

Speaking before the Liberal caucus meeting in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the repatriation effort and charges.

“Fundamentally, travelling for the purpose of supporting terrorism is a crime in Canada. And anyone who travelled for the purpose of supporting terrorism should face criminal charges,” he said.

“I’m not going to speak directly to any given situation, because it’s in the hands of the police and eventually the courts. But it is important that we make sure that people know you cannot get away with supporting terrorism in this country, regardless of the circumstances.”

Asked if other repatriation efforts are underway, Trudeau said Canadian authorities continue to “engage responsibly” in the region.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2022.

With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Beth Leighton in Vancouver

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