EDMONTON — A man who the U.S. Justice Department alleges had aspirations to become a suicide bomber was arrested in Edmonton by RCMP on Wednesday and charged with conspiring to kill American soldiers in Iraq.
Sayfildin Tahir Sharif, 38, was held in custody pending a request by the United States to extradite him to stand trial. He was scheduled to appear in court Thursday to answer to the charges.
He was also charged with providing material support to a multinational terrorist network that took part in a suicide bombing on April 10, 2009, that killed five U.S. soldiers near a base in Mosul, Iraq.
A news release issued by the U.S. Justice Department said the soldiers — one of them a 32-year-old sergeant and the rest between the ages of 20 and 25 — died when a Tunisian jihadist drove a truck laden with explosives to the gate of the U.S. military base in the region.
A day later, Sharif had a conversation with one of the Iraq-based members of the terrorist network, said the Justice Department.
“Did you hear about the huge incident yesterday?” Sharif allegedly said, according to the release. “Is it known?”
When told yes, Sharif continued: “He was one of the Tunisian brothers.”
The Justice Department said the conversation was obtained through wiretaps and search warrants authorized by Canadian courts.
Sharif is alleged to have links to another bombing at an Iraqi police station on March 31, 2009, in which at least seven Iraqis were killed.
That attack was committed by two other Tunisians who travelled to Iraq with the Mosul bomber.
The Justice Department says Sharif has continued to support attacks in Iraq since then, including an attempt by the terrorist network to send a second group of Tunisian jihadists into the country.
In online conversations, Sharif advised one of those jihadists not to leave a will and to “try to delete everything … off your computer,” said the release.
“Don’t leave one character of information or anything behind,” the release said Sharif told the man. “Don’t leave any trace … do not forget to keep reading Qur’an and repeat the famous prayers on the way until you meet with God.”
That person was later arrested as he tried to leave the African country.
In November 2009, according to the Justice Department, Sharif told his mother that his greatest wish was to die a martyr and be greeted by 70 virgins in paradise.
RCMP spokeswoman Doris Stapleton said Mounties arrested Sharif, a Canadian citizen and Iraqi national, without incident at the request of the FBI.
Sgt. Patrick Webb told The Associated Press that Sharif never left Canada and that he never posed a danger to the public in Edmonton.
The Justice Department said Sharif has aliases including Tahir Sharif Sayfildin, Faruq Khalil Muhammad ’Isa and Faruk Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa.
Canada’s public safety minister, Vic Toews, praised the Mounties for their involvement.
“The government of Canada remains unwavering in its commitment to protect Canadians and support the global fight against terrorism,” Toews said in a news release.
“That is why Canada works very closely with international partners, including the United States, to combat terrorism and its perpetrators.
“We face the same threats and share the same concerns.”
United States Attorney Loretta Lynch said there is no safe harbour for terrorists and expressed her gratititude to the Canadian government and RCMP.
“The five American servicemen who lost their lives in Iraq as a result of the actions of this terrorist network made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation,” she said.
“Today’s arrest demonstrates that we have not forgotten that sacrifice and will continue to use every available means to bring to justice all those who are responsible.”
“The terrorist threat may be decentralized, but it is undeniably international,” said Janice Fedarcyk, the FBI’s assistant director.
“In a real sense, the safety and security of people anywhere depends on the ability and commitment of counterterrorism entities everywhere to work together. If national borders don’t deter terrorists, we can’t allow boundaries to impede the global effort to prevent a global threat.”
The charges faced by Sharif carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Webb said if Sharif waives extradition he could be quickly returned to the United States but “if it’s disputed through the courts, it could be years.”