How did an Is­lamic State flag end up in Ed­mon­ton?

Flag sellers of­fer the­o­ries


A few years ago, Arif Dewji, owner of House of Flags and Ban­ners in Co­quit­lam, B.C., got an odd re­quest from a prospec­tive cus­tomer.

A man who seemed to be based in New York sent over the de­sign of a flag he wanted printed.

At first Dewji did not know the mean­ing of the white logo set against a black back­drop, but some­thing seemed fishy. Af­ter some on­line dig­ging, he re­al­ized it was the flag used by fol­low­ers of the Is­lamic State ter­ror group.

“I didn’t touch it with a dirty shirt,” he said.

Ed­mon­ton po­lice have said an Is­lamic State flag was found last week­end in a ve­hi­cle in­volved in what they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing as a ter­ror­ist at­tack. Ab­du­lahi Hasan Sharif, a 30-year-old So­mali refugee, is ac­cused of hit­ting a po­lice of­fi­cer with a speed­ing car, stab­bing him and then mow­ing down pedes­tri­ans with a cube van. He faces 11 charges, in­clud­ing five counts of at­tempted mur­der. Sharif does not cur­rently face any ter­ror­ism charges.

Dewji said he doubts any­one in Canada would have been able to get his hands on a pro­fes­sion­ally made flag lo­cally, but it’s pos­si­ble it came from China. Im­ages of the flag come up in search re­sults on the Chi­nese e-com­merce site Alibaba, but not on eBay or Ama­zon.

Dewji told the would-be client he wouldn’t print his flag.

“Ba­si­cally the con­ver­sa­tion went dead and he just hung up the phone.”

Phyl­lis Bright, owner of The Flag Shop in Ed­mon­ton, said she had a sim­i­lar in­quiry this sum­mer.

A man called ask­ing for an Is­lamic State flag to be printed and, when she re­fused, he asked for a plain black one in­stead. Pre­sum­ably he in­tended to sten­cil on the logo in white paint.

At first she didn’t think much of it. Bright said she is some­times sheep­ishly asked for Con­fed­er­ate flags, which are seen as a sym­bol of Amer­ica’s his­tory of slav­ery, and she de­clines.

“The more I thought about it, the more fear­ful I be­came,” Bright re­called.

“It re­ally scared us be­cause I think un­til last week­end we felt very shel­tered in Ed­mon­ton and the fact that some­one would even ask about it was very scary.”

She did not have the man’s name, but she tracked down his num­ber, which was lo­cal. She called the RCMP, who re­ferred her to the Ed­mon­ton po­lice. She said the po­lice told her there wasn’t much they could do based on just a flag re­quest, but that they’d keep the in­for­ma­tion on file.

Bright said she has no idea where some­one could have picked up the flag found in Ed­mon­ton, but she added it looked pro­fes­sion­ally done in pho­tos she saw in the news.

Both Dewji and Bright said their busi­nesses refuse to sell flags em­bla­zoned with sym­bols as­so­ci­ated with ha­tred, such as Nazi swastikas, un­less it’s for a le­git­i­mate pur­pose such as a film or stage pro­duc­tion.

The flag as­so­ci­ated with the Is­lamic State is black with white Ara­bic writ­ing along the top. Below that is a white cir­cle with black writ­ing that is meant to por­tray the seal of the prophet Muham­mad. A flag with a sim­i­lar de­sign has been used by mem­bers of the So­mali ter­ror group al-Shabaab. Many ji­hadist groups use some vari­a­tion of a black flag with white script, some­times re­ferred to as a “black stan­dard.”

The de­sign has sown so much con­fu­sion and fear that when a Zurich man hung a black-and-white Jack Daniel’s whiskey flag in his win­dow, neigh­bours raised con­cerns, said a re­port in the U.K. tabloid The Sun.

In­scrip­tions on the Is­lamic State flag to­gether make up a ba­sic dec­la­ra­tion of faith re­cited by Mus­lims around the world — that Al­lah is the only God and Muham­mad is his prophet. Main­stream Mus­lims have been an­gered to see the mes­sage ap­pro­pri­ated by the ter­ror group in such a way.

An­dre Geroly­matos with Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity’s ter­ror­ism, risk and se­cu­rity stud­ies pro­gram likens us­ing the flag to white su­prem­a­cists us­ing a Chris­tian cross.

“It just shows that th­ese peo­ple are try­ing to ex­ploit peo­ples’ sen­ti­ments and beliefs by per­vert­ing them.”


An Iraqi sol­dier in­spects a re­cently-dis­cov­ered train tun­nel, adorned with an Is­lamic State group flag, that be­longed to the for­mer Bagh­dad to Mo­sul line, that was turned it to a train­ing camp for IS fight­ers, in western Mo­sul, Iraq, in this file photo.Ed­mon­ton po­lice have said an Is­lamic State flag was found last week­end in a ve­hi­cle in­volved in what they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing as a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

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