‘Fulfilling the wishes of God’: The inside story of a police investigation into a Toronto ISIS supporter
After returning to Toronto following a failed attempt to join ISIS, Pamir Hakimzadah told a witness “all non-Muslims should be killed” and Canada should be under Islamic law, a Crown prosecutor alleged in documents obtained by Global News.
In the newly-unsealed court transcripts, the prosecutor also alleged that Hakimzadah, 29, said he wanted “four wives and several female slaves” and “he would be fulfilling the wishes of God to kill non-Muslims.”
But despite his alleged extremist rhetoric and 2014 trip to Turkey to join ISIS, Hakimzadah was not arrested by the RCMP until 2016, when he tried to board another flight to Istanbul.
The details of Project Sachet, the RCMP’s national security probe of the Toronto-born former engineering student, could not be reported until now due to a publication ban.
The Crown’s account of the investigation points to the troubles police have had dealing with Canadians who have left to join terrorist groups and returned, a terrorism expert said.
“It suggests that the RCMP may be struggling in coordinating its response in a timely way given the amount of time between when Hakimzadah returned and his arrest,” said Prof. Stephanie Carvin.
Hakimzadah pleaded guilty on Feb. 1 to a single count of leaving Canada to participate in terrorist activity. The charge related to his 2014 trip to Turkey. He was never charged over his second attempt to leave Canada in 2016.
On Thursday, he was sentenced to an additional six months, in addition to the time his has already served since his arrest in June 2016. He must also meet weekly with an imam for religious counselling.
The judge said his guilty plea, family support and charity work all weighed in his favor. He also had not encouraged others to support ISIS, the judge said. He will be eligible for parole in three months.
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Because he pleaded guilty, few details of the case have been publicly disclosed, but transcripts of Hakimzadah’s September 2016 bail hearing allege that in 2013 a witness became concerned about his “obsession with Islam.”
Without telling his family, he applied for a Canadian passport, which was issued on Aug. 20, 2014, when ISIS was in the headlines for its genocide of Yazidis. He flew to Istanbul via Amsterdam on Oct. 22, but a suspicious cab driver turned him in to police.
Unaware he had been arrested, a friend phoned Hakimzadah’s family the next day. He said Hakimzadah “was going to enter Syria to fight for Allah,” alleged the Crown, Jeff Pearson. The friend later clarified that Hakimzadah “had left Canada to join ISIS.”
Turkey held him for almost a month, banned him from the country for one year and deported him back to Toronto on Nov. 19, 2014. The RCMP was not aware he had tried to join ISIS and he was not arrested at the time, but according to the Crown his family knew.
“When Pamir returned home in November 2014, he told his family that he had travelled to Turkey in an effort to fight for Allah, but he got caught. He said that Allah didn’t allow him to fight for the cause at the time, but that he would try again,” according to the Crown.
As the expiration of his Turkish travel ban approached, Hakimzadah told his family he intended to leave for Syria once again, and conducted online research on how to travel there without being detected, the Crown alleged.
“He said that he would have four wives and several female slaves and that he would be taken care of by the state,” the Crown alleged. “Pamir stated that Muslims were being oppressed all over the world and that it was up to other Muslims to go and fight for them.”
“He added that he would be fulfilling the wishes of God to kill non-Muslims,” the Crown said. “He also added that it would be acceptable to lie to non-believers, as it is simply an act of war that all non-Muslims should be killed and that Sharia law should be the law of Canada.”
A witness recalled having 20 to 30 conversations with Hakimzadah about ISIS, Islam, fighting for Muslims, killing non-Muslims, travelling to Syria and dying as a martyr, the Crown alleged.
“I’m going away for the Islamic cause to please Allah. That’s my intention. I’m going to help and fight for the sake of Islam,” he allegedly said in a surreptitious recording, one of several made by the witness.
Another witness said the “entire family knew about him wanting to participate in jihad,” and that when an uncle challenged his ideology, Hakimzadah chastised him for voting in a Canadian election.
According to the Crown, his landlord in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park said Hakimzadah had said he was going to Afghanistan and that, “ISIS was not extreme in its views and that he supported them and that given the chance, he would join them.”
But Canadian counter-terrorism police only began to investigate once a witness came forward in January 2016 — almost 14 months after Hakimzadah was deported from Turkey over his initial failed attempt to join ISIS.
On June 27, 2016, Hakimzadah tried to board a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. His ticket allowed him to fly on to Afghanistan. The airline prevented him from boarding because he was on the no-fly list.
He was initially charged only over an assault that occurred in 2015. The victim was the witness who later reported him. It was another 10 months before Hakimzadah was charged under Canada’s leaving-for-terrorism law over his 2014 trip to Turkey.
During the investigation, the RCMP found a handwritten document called Brain Dump, which an Islamic extremism expert said suggested he was “weighing the pros and cons of joining jihad in Syria,” the Crown alleged.
But prosecutors charged him only with one count of terrorism. His lawyer Luka Rados said what Hakimzadah did was “not the most serious terrorist offence,” adding his client was remorseful and open to de-radicalization counselling.
“We have not had many cases or prosecutions, so inexperience applying a relatively new foreign fighter law may be a factor,” said Prof. Carvin, who specializes in terrorism and national security at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
“But this raises questions as to whether there have been improvements so that law enforcement is involved immediately when a returner steps foot in Canada to ensure public safety.”
A senior RCMP officer said in an interview Wednesday that a national strategy on returning extremist travelers was being ramped up following the capture of several Canadian ISIS members in Syria.
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