‘I would love to perform a martyrdom operation in this scene’, wrote Jack Letts, nicknamed ‘Jihadi Jack’, in July 2015. He was commenting on a Facebook photo of his former schoolfriend in military uniform with a group of other soldiers. Jack went on to state his desire to behead his former schoolfriend, threatening to shoot him if he encountered him in Syria.
Yet just a few years later in a Sky News interview in 2019, Jack expressed his desire to return home, now claiming that he had ‘no intention of blowing them [British people] up’.
In the time in between these two statements, Jack was caught by Kurdish authorities in 2017 and has since been held prisoner in conditions likely to be far from comfortable. It is difficult to believe that Jack’s claim to pose no threat might not be motivated more by desire for comfort than by sincerity.
Jack left his home in Oxfordshire to travel to Syria in 2014 at the age of 19. Considerable evidence has emerged since then of his involvement with ISIS. Beyond his comments on his former friend’s Facebook post, he has posted a picture of himself giving a one finger salute in front of the Mosul Dam in 2015, which was at that time ISIS-controlled territory; he has made other Facebook comments to a former friend claiming ‘My mates died fighting and killing your countries brainwashed soldiers’; and he has declared himself an ‘enemy of Britain’. His tenuous claim that his Facebook comments were the result of being hacked is indicative of the ease with which he lies and throws his other claims, such as to no longer be a threat, into question. Indeed, Hanif Qadir, who is the CEO of Active Change Foundation and has tried to deradicalize Jack, told Sky News in 2019 ‘I would still say he poses a threat’.
Despite all this, the Canadian government has recently announced that he is one of 23 Canadian nationals residing in Syria to be repatriated. This follows a court case brought to the Canadian federal court by the individuals’ relatives, who argue that preventing these individuals’ repatriation is a violation of their constitutional rights. Jack is included in this due to his dual Canadian citizenship through his father.
This court ruling is the culmination of a strange wider attempt at creating a moral argument for Jack’s return. Jack’s mother, Ms Lane, has claimed that Britain has been ‘recalcitrant’ and ‘authoritarian’ in its removal of Jack’s citizenship. Canadian MP Elizabeth May has expressed her shame at the Canadian government’s failure to repatriate Canadian nationals ‘caught up in the horrific events of terrorism in Syria’, seemingly oblivious to the fact that some of these individuals, such as Jack, were likely the ones perpetrating these acts of terrorism. Others have labelled Jack as simply an idealistic teenager, whose disbarment is the consequence of ‘Islamophobia’, rather than his own blatant involvement of terror.
The message that this sends to other radicalised youths considering travelling abroad to fight for similar terrorist organizations is deeply concerning.
However, there may be reasons to be optimistic. Jack’s repatriation by the Canadian government will allow him to be put on trial. Despite the strong indication of Jack’s terrorist activities, a trial will allow a thorough examination of the evidence so that any verdict against him can be sufficiently justified. Moreover, it may well be the case that many of Jack’s fellow Canadian nationals are innocent of connection to ISIS. If so, they deserve to be given a fair chance at freedom via the courts.
Featured image – Hermes Rivera at Unsplash