An Ontario man acknowledged Monday he travelled to Syria with the intention of joining the local Al Qaeda faction and that after he returned, he posted on social media about terrorist attacks in the West.
An agreed statement of facts read in court at the sentencing of Kevin Omar Mohamed, 25, said he flew to Turkey in 2014 and crossed the border into Syria to join Jabhat Al-Nusrah (JAN).
“When Mohamed reached Syria, he successfully met with members of JAN,” the statement said. “He remained in Syria at the direction of, or for the benefit of, JAN. His purpose was to enhance the ability of that group to commit terrorist activity.”
While in Syria, he posted a message on Twitter say that traveling to Syria was “so easy.”
He later crossed back into Turkey and returned to Toronto after one month. He then posted a series of messages on Twitter, including one that called attacks in the West “beautiful.”
The RCMP arrested Mohamed in Waterloo, Ont., in March 2016. He pleaded guilty on June 2, 2017, to participating in the activity of a terrorist group. Details of the case had not been made public until Monday.
“I’d just like to say I’m sorry and I recognize what I did is wrong,” Mohamed told the court.
The Crown is seeking a four-and-a-half year sentence. Taking into account the time he has already served, he would have to spend another two years in prison before being released.
Federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh said his actions were “motivated by bias, prejudice and hate,” but that he had accepted responsibility and was willing to participate in de-radicalization.
Defence lawyer Paul Slansky said Mohamed went to Syria to fight the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. “His motivation was to stop the slaughter of Syrians,” he said.
While Mohamed had intended to “potentially” join Jabhat Al-Nusrah, he did not do so, Slansky said, adding there was no proof that he meant what he said in his inflammatory social media posts.
However, Shaikh said his tweets were not consistent with this argument.
According to the statement of facts, Mohamed left Canada on April 24, 2014, and travelled to Antakya, Turkey. He then crossed into Syria. But “his trip was cut short,” Shaikh said.
Upon learning what he had done, his mother and brother went to Antakya to persuade him to come home, she said. Mohamed crossed back into Turkey and returned to Toronto in late May 2014.
Once back in Canada, he began posting on Twitter as “Abu Khalid,” whose profile described him as a “supporter of international terrorism.” He wrote about “looking for work so I can get back the cash to head back for jihad.”
The former University of Waterloo engineering student also wrote repeatedly about attacking the West. “I’m starting to realize attacking the west is really beautiful,” he wrote.
“If someone wants to attack the west, and is scared of large-scale attacks he could start small, like burning cars and kufar (non-believers) in parking lots,” he wrote in one of his Tweets.
After arresting Mohamed last year, police searched his lockers at the university and found papers entitled “assassination” and describing the steps required to commit a terrorist attack.
“Specifying target – prioritize economic personalities,” the document read. “Every target has security loophole.”
Police also found a large hunting knife.
His lawyer argued he had only taken notes from an article he had read in Inspire, the magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “He’s reading something interesting and making notes,” Slansky said. “All it reflects is an interest in the topic and writing it down.”