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Two women arrested after being repatriated to Canada from Syrian detention camp

The two women and two children were detained in a camp in Syria for relatives of Islamic State fighters
A Kurdish fighter patrols the al-Hol camp, which holds relatives of suspected Islamic State group fighters, in northeast Syria during a security operation on 26 August 2022.
A Kurdish fighter patrols al-Hol camp, which holds relatives of suspected Islamic State group fighters in northeast Syria, during a security operation on 26 August 2022 (AFP)

Canadian police said on Wednesday they had arrested two women, charging one with "terrorism-related offences", after they were repatriated to the country from a detention camp in Syria for the families of Islamic State (IS) group fighters.

Oumaima Chouay, 27, was arrested at the Montreal-Trudeau airport on Tuesday night and charged with four terrorism-related offences, including "participation in activity of terrorist group", the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Quebec said in a statement.

Chouay left Canada in 2014 and was suspected of participating in "terrorist activities" in the name of Islamic State before her arrest by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in November 2017, police said.

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Another woman, Canadian Kimberly Polman, was also arrested after arriving in Montreal on Wednesday morning, and authorities are seeking a peace bond, her lawyer said, according to Canadian media. Polman is not facing criminal charges.

Middle East Eye reached out to RCMP for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

In a statement published on Twitter, the Canadian government confirmed it had repatriated four Canadians - two children and two women - from northeast Syria, and thanked the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for its cooperation and the US for assisting in the operation.

The detained individuals were under an "extremely difficult security situation and adverse circumstances", the foreign ministry said, without naming the individuals due to privacy considerations.

The Canadian government has faced fierce criticism from human rights advocates for failing to repatriate its citizens who ended up in the Kurdish-run camps because of alleged ties to the IS group.

Canada helped to facilitate the repatriation of a five-year-old Canadian orphan in 2020 and a four-year-old girl and her mother in 2021. However, up until now, authorities have done little to secure the release of any other children from the war-torn country.

While many countries, including the US, Germany and France, have repatriated a number of their citizens from the same camps in Syria without issues, Canada has lagged behind.

Human Rights Watch Canada said in a June 2020 report that at least 47 Canadian citizens, including 26 children, were being held by Kurdish-led authorities in the camps.

Last September, two dozen families of Canadians held in the Kurdish-run camps filed a court application against the Canadian government, accusing Ottawa of failing to bring their loved ones home.

Farida Deif, Human Rights Watch's Canada director, told CBC News that the "approach of the government thus far has been abysmal".

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not comment on any specific case but said supporting terrorism was a crime in Canada.

"Anyone who travelled for the purpose of supporting terrorism should face criminal charges," Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.

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