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‘Please get me out’: Alleged ex-ISIL follower tells Canadian official he would take Siberia, Guantanamo over Kurdish jail


‘I made a mistake coming here, I know that. If you want to put me in prison, I understand that, I do not mind. I have made mistakes, probably prison is good for me. But just not here’

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Jack Letts’ message to the Canadian government official was simple: “Please get me out of this place.”

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In fact, the alleged former ISIL follower and Canadian citizen said in the recorded phone conversation he’d rather be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Siberia or a Canadian penitentiary than continue to be held by Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

In the January 2018 call with a Global Affairs Canada official Letts also admits he made a serious mistake by travelling to the Islamic State’s former stronghold as an 18-year-old Muslim convert.

He apologizes repeatedly to his parents, says he had received little medical help for an array of serious-sounding health problems and generally describes the prison’s conditions as “terrible,” according to a transcript provided by his family.

U.K.-raised Letts said he had to spend over a month in a windowless cell not much bigger than him, an experience that drove him to attempt suicide.

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“I have made mistakes in my life, I know this,” Letts told the official.

“I always looked to Canada as sort of the better version of England. I always thought they give people second chances,” he said. “But I do not know how it works when it is to do with terrorism … I made a mistake coming here, I know that. If you want to put me in prison, I understand that, I do not mind. I have made mistakes, probably prison is good for me. But just not here, the situation here is terrible.”

Letts’ parents have been fighting for several years to have their son brought to Canada to at least face justice in this country, but the phone call provides a rare glimpse of the 26-year-old’s situation in his own words.

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The Global Affairs official told him the government was working on the case and promised to try to find a “solution.” Kurdish officials have urged foreign governments to retrieve their nationals from the prisons and camps they run in a quasi-autonomous part of northeast Syria.

Many, including the United States, have obliged.

But almost four years later, it appears Ottawa has done little to help Letts, who’s been held without charge or trial. The government has likewise failed to repatriate any of about 45 other ISIL-linked Canadians who are detained by Kurdish forces, including 15 women and 25 young children.

Letts was born and raised in Oxford, England, but has been a joint Canadian-British citizen all his life. His father is from Canada and his mother spent most of her childhood here. The U.K. revoked his citizenship two years ago, meaning his only nationality now is Canadian.

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As a teenager with mental health troubles that included serious obsessive-compulsive disorder, he converted to Islam, then travelled to Kuwait to explore the religion further. He later surfaced in Syria, living for a time in ISIL’s de-facto capital of Raqqa. The horrors committed there — including beheadings of hostages captured on video — shocked the world.

There is some indication the 26-year-old initially supported the Islamic State’s extreme violence — he admitted to a BBC journalist he once was willing to carry out a suicide bombing — but there’s no evidence he participated in any. His parents say he grew strongly opposed to the group and eventually fled Raqqa. Letts was captured by Kurdish troops soon after.

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He comes across on the call as thrilled to make a connection with the Western world.

“You don’t know how happy I am to speak English,” he says at one point, telling the official that her voice reminded him of his Canadian aunt.

“Tell my mum I am sorry. Tell my dad I am sorry. Tell them if I ever get out of this place I am going to try and be a better person. I am going to try and set right what I did wrong if that makes sense.”

He described to the official being locked for 35 days in a cell slightly taller than him and about half that long, with no windows or toilet.

“In solitary confinement I started to go insane and talk to myself,” Letts said of the experience. “I thought dying was better than my mother seeing me insane so I tried to hang myself.”

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The rest of the time he said he was crammed into a room that had eight beds but 30 occupants.

Letts suggested Global Affairs ask the Kurds to release him, as he said other countries had done, but stressed that he expected to go to prison here.

“They handed over loads of people to Tunisia, Russia etc.,” he said.

Global Affairs repeated in a statement Tuesday its long-standing assertion that the security situation in Syria makes its ability to offer consular services there “extremely limited.”

However, “Canadian consular officials are actively engaged with Syrian Kurdish authorities and international organizations operating in the region for information on and assistance to Canadian citizens in custody,” the department said.

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In fact, it appears Ottawa has done nothing for the Canadians, charged Farida Deif, Canadian representative for Human Rights Watch.

But the best way to serve the victims of Islamic State’s atrocities would be to bring them back and fairly prosecute any suspected of committing crimes, she said, since that’s not happening in Syria.

“It’s deeply disturbing to see that there is a Canadian man that is held in these inhuman and degrading conditions and that his situation is virtually unchanged (more than) three years in.”

Letts told the Global Affairs official he hadn’t seen a doctor in seven months, despite one telling him earlier he had cysts on his kidney and kidney stones. “It is sort of embarrassing saying it but my right testicle has a large lump on it, and I think it has gotten bigger,” Letts added. “I do not know what that is.”

There was also a flash of dark humour as he seemed to anticipate potential objections to his being brought to Canada.

“I promise to not blow anyone up with fertilizer or however they do it,” he said, then quickly added: “That was a joke.”

“Obviously I’m not going to blow anyone up.”

• Email: tblackwell@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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