Calgary man pleads guilty to terrorism charges after fighting as an ISIS sniper in Syria

A Calgary man has pleaded guilty to terrorism offences, admitting kidnapping during a year-long fight as a trained sniper with ISIS in Syria.

Hussein Sobhe Borhot, 36, pleaded guilty to participating in terrorist activities outside of Canada and to committing a crime at the direction of a terrorist organization.

Borhot spent May 2013 to June 2014 in Syria, after sneaking across the border from Turkey with the help of a Turkish military officer who had been paid to allow Islamic State fighters to cross.

The RCMP cooperated with the FBI and the US Department of Defense throughout the seven-year investigation.

“I didn’t know any better”

Upon returning to Calgary, Borhot was the subject of two undercover operations, telling an officer he had been inspired by the first-person shooter video game Call of Duty.

Defense attorney Rame Katrib along with prosecutors Kent Brown and Domenic Puglia negotiated the plea for two of the four counts Borhot faced.

On Thursday, Court of Queen’s Bench Judge David Labrenz accepted the pleas and adjourned the case to next month for a sentencing hearing. Borhot will remain free on bail, under strict conditions pending sentencing.

When Larenz asked Borhot if he had admitted the facts of the case, the attacker replied that he had, but added, “I didn’t know any better.”

The maximum sentence for the second offense is life in prison, although the lawyers did not specify what they would seek.

Details of Borhot’s crimes come from an Agreed Statement of Facts, read aloud by Puglia.

Original plan: suicide bomber

The Agreed Statement of Facts does not detail how he was recruited to fight for ISIS, but begins with Borhot boarding a plane in Calgary on May 9, 2013, bound for Turkey.

According to the document, Borhot did not inform his wife or father of his intention to travel to Syria. He used a prepaid credit card loaded with $3,500 to book his flights.

From Turkey, Borhot went to Syria, where he “had a lot of training” and received weapons, including grenades and an AK-47.

At first, Borhot told the undercover agent that he wanted to be a suicide bomber but changed his mind and became a fighter instead.

During his military training, Borhot impressed his leader with his sniper skills, ranking second among the trainees.

Kidnappings

At one point, as the undercover agent left for dinner, Borhot told him that he had gone to a village with his ISIS group and kidnapped opposition fighters whom he believed to belong to the Free Syrian Army.

But the next day, back at his camp, Borhot said his leader told him to send back one of the victims who was considered “innocent”.

During this mission, Borhot himself was kidnapped.

ISIS then negotiated a prisoner exchange and Borhot was returned to his group.

During the two sting operations, which took place between 2016 and 2020, Borhot told the officer that he would not kill anyone who did not try to kill him, but also said that he “liked the shooting and jihad”.

“Many have died”

During the first operation – which lasted more than two years, between October 2016 and December 2018 – an RCMP officer befriended Borhot at a mosque.

The pair discussed “innocent matters” like work, politics and religion, according to the Agreed Statement of Facts.

They exchanged phone numbers and spoke via text, phone and in person.

The officer told Borhot that he supported religious fundamentalists in his home country.

Three months into this relationship, Borhot started talking about his role as an IS fighter.

Borhot revealed that “many died” during his time in Syria and got excited as he described the battles, according to the officer.

Borhot said he would come back

Borhot said that if he had the opportunity to go back, he would: “for religion, anything”.

The suspected terrorist also confirmed a report that featured him and described his ISIS admission form, which was obtained by CBC News.

On March 11, 2016, CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault reported that ISIS documents revealed six Canadian names.

As a result of this report, the RCMP determined that one of the ISIS documents, an admission form for the terrorist organization, described Borhot.

It included his name, nickname, mother’s name, date of birth, point of entry, previous occupation (a pipe fitter) and Calgary phone numbers.

Call of Duty

The form also showed that between fighter, kamikaze or inghimasi (trained warriors who expect to be killed), Borhot’s choice of military designation was “fighter”.

Four years later, the FBI gave the Borhot RCMP ISIS release form. He indicated that he had left the terrorist group on May 30, 2014, after a final assignment as a combatant in the province of Homs.

The first undercover operation ended when the officer told Borhot that he had to return to his country due to increased RCMP surveillance.

This officer resurfaced in 2020 and the relationship rekindled when Borhot helped the officer settle down Call of Duty on his Playstation.

He called the video game “good practice” and said the games felt like real fights.

In July 2020, investigators had what they needed and brought terrorism charges against Borhot.

Two months later, Borhot’s cousin, Jamal Borhot, was also charged with related offences. He has not yet set a trial date and will be back in court on May 13.

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