Monday, December 5, 2016

Canadian veteran fighting ISIL has been arrested in Iraq, his mother says

By: Stewart Bell,  Globe and Mail 

TORONTO — A Canadian military veteran who has spent the past six months fighting ISIL alongside Kurdish forces has been arrested in northern Iraq, his mother said in an interview Sunday.

Michael Kennedy, 32, was on his to Sulaymaniyah, trying to make it home to Newfoundland for Christmas, when he was taken into custody by Iraqi Kurdish authorities, said his mother Kay Kennedy.

“All I know is he’s been arrested and he’s in Erbil,” she said from Saint Vincent’s, Nfld. She said she got the news from a Kurdish friend of her son’s. “He said nobody knows the reasons.”
Family handout Michael Kennedy is a military veteran
He has been held since Tuesday in Erbil, said Kennedy, adding the affair has been hard on her because she lost another son, Pte. Kevin Kennedy of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on April 8, 2007.

Michael Kennedy was taken into custody Tuesday, his mother says
Michael Kennedy was taken into custody Tuesday, his mother says. Seen here in a family photo - at the KAF Cenotaph while on deployment to Afghanistan. 
It is not unusual for the Kurdistan regional government of Masoud Barzani to arrest Western volunteer fighters as they are leaving Iraq on the grounds they have overstayed their visas and must pay fines.

But Kennedy’s visa was valid until January, said his mother. She said she last spoke to her son Monday when he was in Dohuk and he told her he was coming home through Sulaymaniyah, Dubai and Toronto.

She said he was at a restaurant with friends and sounded upbeat but when she called him back later that night, his mood had changed. “I could tell by his voice there was something off.”

Several dozen Canadians, many of them military veterans, are among the hundreds of foreign volunteers assisting Kurdish militias on the frontlines against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Ottawa has verbally discouraged Canadians from taking up arms against ISIL but has not stopped them from traveling or arrested them upon their return, although some have been questioned by the RCMP.

Kennedy served in the Canadian Forces for 13 years, including a Navy deployment in the Gulf of Aden, she said. Three months after leaving the military in March, he made his way to northern Syria.

“He decided to go over there in June. He decided to go fight ISIS after reading about what those Kurdish people were going through,” his mother said. “Michael decided to do this as sort of a humanitarian thing.”

He fought initial with the YPG militia in northern Syria. About a month ago, he crossed into Iraq and has been fighting around Shingal, his mother said. The area is where ISIL kidnapped and murdered hundreds of Yazidis.

“Then he decided, ‘After six months there, mom, it’s time for me to come home, I’m exhausted,’” she said, adding he had told her, “’I’ll be home for Christmas, mom.’”

She said she had contacted Global Affairs Canada over the weekend and was told “they’d get back to me.”

A report released last summer by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue said the hazy legality around foreign anti-ISIL fighters has led to confusion and uncertainty. The study found that military veterans fighting with the Kurds were motivated partly by a desire to “finish the job” they had started in their respective armies.