A former University of Waterloo student who travelled to Syria in 2014 to join the Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusrah was sentenced to 4-1/2 years on Tuesday.
Kevin Omar Mohamed, 25, will have to serve an additional two years in prison on top of the time he has already spent in custody since he was arrested by the RCMP in March 2016.
The Crown and defence both agreed on the 4-1/2-year term. Federal lawyer Sarah Shaikh said while his crime was serious he had pleaded guilty and agreed to participate in de-radicalization.
“It’s a significant penitentiary sentence.” Shaikh told Global News.. “There’s a three-year probationary term attached to it, which has onerous conditions that will ensure that Mr. Mohamed reintegrates into society and rehabilitates himself.”
A former resident of Whitby, Ont., Mohamed pleaded guilty on June 2 to participating in the activities of a terrorist group. The maximum sentence was 10 years.
Two other charges were withdrawn. Mohamed must also serve three years on probation. He is not allowed to possess weapons, view terrorist materials or own any devices capable of accessing the Internet.
Justice Bruce Durno said Mohamed had shown remorse but that he was motivated by bias, prejudice and hate. He called terrorism offences “a most vile form of criminal conduct, attacking democratic ideals.”
An agreed statement of facts read in court on Monday said Mohamed had flown to Turkey and crossed into Syria in 2014 with the intention of joining Jabhat Al-Nusrah.
He met with members of the terrorist group but his trip was cut short when his mother and brother followed him to Turkey and convinced him to return to Canada.
Upon his return home, he posted a series of extremist messages on Twitter that praised Osama bin Laden and proposed terrorist attacks against “non-believers” in the West.
“Maybe you shouldn’t live in the lands waging war on islam unless your planning attacks against them, perhaps either get out or attack,” he wrote under the alias Abu Khalid.
“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 another of his Tweets.
When he was arrested in Waterloo, Ont., he was carrying a large hunting knife. In his locker at the university, police found a four-page note listing the steps required to conduct a terrorist attack.
Shaikh said his actions were “motivated by bias, prejudice and hate.” She noted his Tweets about terrorist attacks in the West and non-believers. “I think that is a bias against non-Muslims.”
The sentence must reflect how terrorism undermines freedom and democracy, and send a clear message that Canada is not a safe haven, Shaikh told the court.
Defence lawyer Paul Slansky said Mohamed went to Syria to fight the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. But he said Mohamed never actually joined Jabhat Al-Nusrah.
“The family was all quite surprised by his involvement in any of this,” Slanksy said. “He has come to recognize that what he did was wrong, and he’s been quite remorseful.’
Slansky also said there was no proof Mohamed meant what he said in his inflammatory social media posts. “Some of it could very well be puffery, bragging, appealing to one’s Twitter followers.”
But Durno disagreed. “I do not see the Tweets as puffery,” he said. “His Tweets encouraged and counseled others to commit hate.”