ISIS suspect Jack Letts has been stripped of his British citizenship, according to Canadian officials.
Letts was a British-Canadian national who converted to Islam and fled his home in Oxford in 2014 to allegedly join the terrorist organization in its self-declared capital, Raqqa. He also is believed to have married an ISIS bride in Iraq.
Letts was subsequently captured in 2017 by the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG – a US-backed Kurdish militia group combating ISIS – as he attempted to flee into Turkey. The young man, nicknamed “Jihadi Jack” by the British media, has since been held in a jail in northern Syria.
Despite expressing remorse over joining the terror group, Letts, 24, is now believed to have had his British citizenship revoked, sparking a diplomatic row with Canada.
While nations are not permitted under international law to deprive individuals of citizenship if it is likely to render them stateless, Letts has dual British-Canadian citizenship. The move means that the repatriation of Letts will become the responsibility of Canada, rather than the UK.
“The government of Canada is aware that the United Kingdom revoked the citizenship of Jack Letts,” Ralph Goodale, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, said in a statement. “Terrorism knows no borders, so countries need to work together to keep each other safe. Canada is disappointed that the United Kingdom has taken this unilateral action to off-load their responsibilities.
“Investigating, arresting, charging and prosecuting any Canadian involved in terrorism or violent extremism is our primary objective. They must be held accountable for their actions.”
The UK’s Home Office, which refuses to comment on individual cases, said that the decision to deprive dual nationals of citizenship is “based on substantial advice from officials, lawyers and the intelligence agencies.”
“This power is one way we can counter the terrorist threat posed by some of the most dangerous individuals and keep our country safe,” a spokesman told CNN in a statement.
‘I deserve what comes to me’
Letts is believed to have converted to Islam at the age of 16. He subsequently began attending the Bengali mosque on Cowley Road, Oxford, and learned Arabic in order to study the Quran.
Speaking to the British press earlier this year from inside his jail, Letts admitted his guilt but expressed his desire to return to the UK.
“I’m not going to say I’m innocent. I’m not innocent. I deserve what comes to me. But I just want it to be… appropriate… not just haphazard, freestyle punishment in Syria,” he told the British broadcaster, ITV.
He also admitted to at one point expressing desire to conduct a suicide bombing attack.
“I used to want to at one point, believe it or not. Not a vest. I wanted to do it in a car. I said if there’s a chance, I will do it,” he told the BBC.
He acknowledged to the BBC, however, that he had made “a big mistake” and had become “an enemy of Britain.”
The case of “Jihadi Jack” gained renewed attention in June this year after his parents — John Letts, 58, a dual British and Canadian Citizen, and Sally Lane, 57 – were convicted at London’s Old Bailey of one charge of funding terrorism.
The pair were found guilty of sending their son £223 in September 2015, and were sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
Speaking outside the court following the verdict, the couple said, “We have been convicted for doing what any parent would do if they thought that their child’s life was in danger.”
The court was told that the couple ignored numerous warnings from police not to send money to their son. The pair said, however, that their son was “desperate to get out” of Syria and was in mortal danger.
“Having escaped from ISIS, he is in limbo,” they said in June. “The heavy price we paid today is an indicator of the love we have for our children. We are committed to help Jack return home.”
Judge Nicholas Hilliard said: “It was one thing for parents to be optimistic about their children and I do acknowledge he is your son who you love very much. But in this context you did lose sight of realities. The warning signs were there for you to see.”
Another controversial citizenship decision
The move to strip Letts of his citizenship is likely to split opinion, however. It follows the decision of then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid to revoke to the citizenship of British ISIS bride Shamima Begum earlier this year.
Begum fled Bethnal Green, east London, to join ISIS in 2015 at the age of 15. She was denied reentry into Britain as officials believed she had a claim to Bangladeshi citizenship due to her familial heritage, which was later rejected by officials in the south Asian nation.
The Home Office nevertheless faced mounting calls for Begum to be allowed to return to the UK after her third child died in March while she was incarcerated in the al-Hawl refugee camp in northeastern Syria. She remains in Syria, according to news reports.