A posthumous video that appears to show a Canadian who died fighting in Syria is not uncommon — nearly every Western terrorist recruit has made one, an expert said.
The video, released Friday, purportedly shows a man who media reports identified earlier this year as Andre Poulin of Timmins, Ont. The CBC reported he converted to Islam and changed his name to Abu Muslim. He reportedly died during fighting in Syria last August. On the video the man urges people to contribute to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group that has occupied territory in Iraq and Syria.
Steven Emerson of the Washington D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism said Western recruits are often made to do such videos as an initiation.
“Before they actually participate in hostilities, one of the recruitment requirements is to make a video — sort of your last will and testament — for posterity, which are then posted online should they die in battle,” he said.
The video was posted online by an American organization that tracks extremist groups, the Maryland-based SITE intelligence group. It is yet unclear when the video was taken.
On the video, the man who says he is a Canadian urges Muslims to go to Syria. Failing that, the man said they should contribute money to his organization, also known as ISIL.
The man also said he had a good life in Canada, but questions how people can live as Muslims if they pay taxes to countries that he says are at war with Islam.
“Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State,” the man said on the slickly produced video, which includes music in the background and narrator at the end.
“If you cannot fight, then you can give money, and if you cannot give money, then you can assist in technology.”
SITE said the video was produced by the Islamic State’s propaganda wing, the al-Hayat Media Center, and was first posted on a file-sharing website. There was no immediate verification of SITE’s claim from the Canadian government.
Emerson said such videos are successful as Westerners appeal more to potential Western recruits, and that is evident in the “hundreds, if not thousands” of foreigners fighting in Syria in the last five years.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former Canadian intelligence officer, said terrorist organizations have been using videos to spread their messages since the days of the 9/11 incident in 2001, but there has been a spike in the last five years.
“They are trying to attract (those in) the late teens and early 20s,” he said, adding that the intended targets may see the videos as “appealing, attractive, action-oriented, sexy in a sense.”
“They are the ones who are searching for themselves, searching for a vision or a mission for themselves. Very often, they feel invincible.”
SITE is headed by executive director Rita Katz, whom its website says has worked closely with the United States government. The group did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Emerson confirmed SITE was founded by a former employee of his group, though he declined to elaborate.
Juneau-Katsuya estimates such groups to number under 100, with many based in North America, Europe and Israel.
While Juneau-Katsuya said he is not specifically familiar with SITE, he said many of such organizations have a centre-right political alignment, and want governments to be active in fighting terrorists.
“Some of them are very credible in terms of their academic and rigorous approach,” he said. “Some others… they are there to do as much propaganda or counter-propaganda as the videos they are posting.”