And In Canada... Stewart Bell and Andrew Russell/Global News/Feb. 21, 2019

Canadian who tried to join terror group in Syria set for release from prison despite being ‘high risk to public safety’

Canadian who tried to join terror group in Syria set for release from prison despite being ‘high risk to public safety’

An Ontario man who travelled to Syria to join an al-Qaida faction is being released from prison less than two years after pleading guilty, even though the Parole Board of Canada is concerned he might continue to engage in terrorism.

In a newly-released decision obtained by Global News, the Parole Board said Kevin Omar Mohamed had not participated in any de-radicalization efforts and there was no evidence he was committed to changing his “extremist ideological beliefs.”

“Thus, the Board is concerned that you may continue to commit terrorist related offences,” according to Monday’s decision, which said Mohamed’s most recent assessment had labelled him a “high risk to public safety.”

Although the former University of Waterloo student was sentenced to 4.5 years imprisonment as recently as October 2017, when the time he served awaiting trial is taken into consideration, his statutory release date is March 1.

“The actual date of release will be determined by the Correctional Services of Canada,” Parole Board spokesperson Kerry Gatien said.

But the Parole Board said that because it was concerned he might reoffend, it had imposed a number of “special conditions” on him, including that he undergo religious counselling and not use a computer able to access the internet.

He must also let his parole officer inspect his electronic devices and not “possess, access or view, or attempt to acquire” any terrorist-related materials. He is also required to live at a facility approved by corrections officials.

“The Board remains very concerned that the serious nature of your offences alone, coupled with your dangerous radical religious beliefs, would impede your reintegration and continue to present significant risk to the community as a whole,” the decision said.

Prof. Stephanie Carvin, a terrorism expert at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, questioned the religious counselling requirement, saying it was still unclear whether such programs were successful.

“Who is administering that counselling and how effective it is? I think it’s good we have these programs in place, but there is not a lot we know about them and how effective they are,” she said. “It may be effective but we have no idea.”

In 2014, Mohamed flew to Turkey and crossed into Syria to join Jabhat Al-Nusrah, an affiliate of al-Qaida. He met members of the terror group but his trip was cut short when his mother and brother followed him to Turkey and convinced him to go back to Canada.

Upon returning to Canada, he posted messages on social media under various aliases praising Osama bin Laden and proposing terrorism in the West, suggesting attackers “start small” by burning cars and “kufar” [non-believers] in parking lots.

“In those posts you made comments supportive of terrorist activities, promoted violence, and suggested that a person could create timed bombs to be put on planes or boats, and burn cars of “non-believers”; you also commented on the beauty of attacking the west, suggestive of attacks on the Western world,” the Board wrote.

In February 2016, Mohamed left home and went into hiding. He withdrew cash from his bank account and went online to ask how to join Jabhat Al-Nusrah while on the run from police. He was arrested in Waterloo, Ont., in March 2016.

“Upon arrest in March 2016, you were found to be in possession of a large hunting knife, heavy duty work gloves, a large sum of cash and handwritten notes taken from Al-Qaida publications which outlined targets, how to generate a plan, discussed firearms and grenades, and preparing then executing the operation,” the Board decision said.

Given what it felt was the ongoing safety risk, the Board wrote in its decision that Mohamed required close monitoring in the community and “ongoing interventions,” which it said the residency condition could provide.

“Based on the public safety factors and above noted considerations, your risk to public safety has been rated as high because there are current indicators of high risk/concern,” according to the decision.

“CSC [Correctional Service of Canada] notes that you were not involved in any employment, education or psychological services. You declined psychological services while incarcerated,” it added.

“As you have not engaged in interventions and there is little in the way of evidence of progress to assess your level of commitment to change versus your degree of adherence to extremist ideological beliefs. As such, the Board finds you continue to present at least a moderate risk to re-offend violently.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office said Friday that offenders serve the final third of their sentences in the community, which allows for “gradual release under careful watch, instead of releasing offenders ‘cold turkey’ at the end of their sentence, which would be far less safe.”

An offender who breaches any of the conditions imposed by the Parole Board or endangers public safety can be returned to custody.

“The laws under which Mr. Mohamed was sentenced and will receive statutory release remain the same as they were under the previous Conservative government,” Goodale’s spokesperson, Scott Bardsley, said.

“While we cannot comment on national security operational matters, we can assure the public that the government of Canada has robust measures in place to address potential terrorist threats,” he added.

“Our professional security agencies will take the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of Canadians, and can deploy measures such as surveillance, No-Fly listings, peace bonds and legally authorized threat reduction measures.”