A Toronto man admitted Friday he traveled to Turkey in 2014 to join the so-called Islamic State.
At a court appearance in Toronto, Pamir Hakimzadah pleaded guilty to leaving Canada to participate in the activity of a terrorist group.
“The purpose of Pamir’s trip was to enter Syria via Turkey. There he intended to join a terrorist group known as ISIS or Daesh,” according to an Agreed Statement of Facts.
He faces a possible 10-year sentence. The case returns to court on Feb. 26.
Before leaving for Syria, the 29-year-old former Ryerson University engineering student “exhibited increasingly radical Islamic beliefs,” according to the statement of facts.
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“He spoke either in favour of or in defence of ISIS. He viewed online ISIS content such as videos and posts. He also viewed a website that provided instructions on how to get into Syria,” said the statement, which was read into the court record.
“Pamir had previously commented that Muslims are being oppressed all over the world and that it’s up to other Muslims to go fight. Pamir considered whether or not ISIS was prophesized in the Quran and whether they would bring justice to all Muslim lands in the Middle East.”
“Pamir’s family did not share his views on ISIS.”
Telling his parents he was going to Montreal to visit friends, Hakimzadah instead flew to Amsterdam and then to Istanbul, arriving on Oct. 23, 2014.
Within days, he was turned in by a taxi driver who suspected he was trying to join ISIS, and detained by Turkish counter-terrorism police, who deported him back to Toronto on the grounds he was an aspiring foreign fighter.
Upon returning to Canada, he admitted he had gone to Turkey to join the “fight for Allah,” according to the Statement of Facts.
“A family member reported him to police,” said Chris Walsh, the Crown lawyer.
Hakimzadah is now the fifth Canadian to be convicted of leaving or attempting to leave the country to join a terrorist group. Rehab Dughmosh, Ismael Habib, Carlos Larmond and a youth were found guilty of the same charge.
On Jan. 17, a jury found Dughmosh guilty of terrorism after she was similarly intercepted by Turkish authorities in 2016 while on her way to Syria to join ISIS.
She was not arrested until June 2017, after she attacked people at a Canadian Tire store. She later told police she believed it was her religious duty to kill non-Muslims.
Like Dushmosh, Hakimzadah was not immediately arrested upon returning to Canada in 2014. The police investigation began only in January 2016 and he was arrested that June.
At the time, he was charged with assault, assault causing bodily harm and uttering threats. It wasn’t until April 2017 that the RCMP charged him with terrorism stemming from his trip to Turkey.
The guilty plea came as Hakimzadah’s terrorism trial was scheduled to begin in Ontario Superior Court.
In 18 letters of support filed in court in advance of his sentencing, friends and family said Hakimzadah tutored children at the mosque and wanted to help the “oppressed and disenfranchised” abroad.
“He is the backbone of his family and has nothing but love for the people around him,” one wrote.
In December, another Toronto-area man, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, was sentenced to 40 years over an ISIS plot to attack New York’s Times Square and subway system.
Montreal resident Amor Ftouhi was convicted in November of terrorism for a 2017 knife attack at a Michigan airport. Prosecutors said he told officials he was a “soldier of Allah.”
The government’s 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada, released last month, said extremists “inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology” remained Canada’s top terrorism threat.
The report said an estimated 190 “extremist travelers” were abroad — about half of them in Syria, Iraq and Turkey while another 60 have returned to Canada.