Syria: Canadian fighter's death underscores security challenges

Damian Clairmont was killed in infighting between groups opposed to Bashar Assad’s regime. His death shows how complex the battleground has become.

A member of jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo. Calgary's Damian Clairmont, who has been killed in Syria, allegedly joined the Jabhat al-Nusra.



A member of jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo. Calgary's Damian Clairmont, who has been killed in Syria, allegedly joined the Jabhat al-Nusra.

By:  National Security Reporter, Published on Wed Jan 15 2014

The death of another Canadian fighter in Syria this week underscores just how complex the country’s battleground has become and the security challenges facing Western governments.

News broke on social media late Tuesday that Abu Talha Al-Kanadi — reportedly one of the kunyas, or nicknames, for Calgary resident Damian Clairmont — was killed in the infighting between groups opposed to President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Clairmont was killed “while defending himself and his brothers from the #FSA onslaught in Aleppo,” said a Twitter post by a self-described “American Jihadi,” referring to the acronym for the Free Syrian Army.

While the circumstances were not known, a Canadian security source confirmed his death.


Clairmont left his home in Alberta in November 2012 and reportedly joined the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. He denied the claim in an interview with the National Post last year, saying he would not explain his motivation for being in Syria.

It’s between me and God and that’s it,” he said.

In an online post now circulating on Twitter, he reportedly wrote: “The benefit for myself in terms of worldly life is most certainly back in Canada, where I could see my family, indulge in fornication and infidelity legally and limitlessly, and stagger around poisoned on intoxicants and then lie to myself and the world about Freedom and how fantastic it is,” the post stated.


“After all, that is what we were conditioned to believe since our school days, was it not?”

Dozens of Canadians have left for Syria, mainly from Ontario and Alberta, according to Canadian security sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. In a recent interview, Matthew Olsen, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, called Syria the “predominant jihadist battlefield in the world.”

Some have sought to join the FSA in the fight against the Assad regime, others have been lured away by Al Qaeda groups, and these are the cases that Canadian and other Western security agencies are tracking.

“What happens to the radicals when they come home,” said one source involved with the investigation of Canadians abroad.

“This is something we will be reading about for generations.”

The exact number of Canadians fighting abroad is unknown, but security services estimate it is more than 100. Other Canadians have been killed in Syria, including former Toronto resident Ali Dirie, who died in September.

Dirie was convicted for his involvement in the 2006 so-called “Toronto 18” terrorism plot and left for Syria after his release from prison in 2011.

Syria’s battle lines are constantly being redrawn as the conflict nears its fourth year, but much of the current fighting is between the Al Qaeda groups and the Western-backed rebels.

The FSA formed soon after Syria’s protests began in March 2011, as the Middle East and North Africa rebelled against autocratic rulers during the “Arab Spring.” In recent months the FSA has disbanded into new brigades.

Al Qaeda groups such as the Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS were at first tolerated by rebel factions for their much-needed weapons and experience. But now rebel groups seeking Western involvement are fighting back, angered by their brutality and Al Qaeda-inspired ideology.

“I think the current infighting has two meanings,” says Isabel Nassief, an analyst with the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. “It is making things a lot easier for the regime. There are many instances near Aleppo right now where rebel groups will fight the ISIS and then be weakened and the regime will move in and take over the area.”

But Nassief said that while it is encouraging that opposition factions have risen up against this Al Qaeda group, the ISIS is powerful and not easily defeated.

“It’s concerning for the future of Syria because it’s likely ISIS will respond to other rebels in a very brutal way.”

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