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Canada’s terrorism offenders are coming out of prison still radicalized

Toronto police, RCMP say deadly hammer attack was terrorism related
The man accused of carrying out a deadly stabbing attack on London Bridge was known to British authorities for a 2010 terror plot that he had recently finished serving a jail sentence for.

At Suliman Mohamed’s 2016 sentencing for trying to join ISIS, the Ottawa judge presiding over his case did not hold back, scolding those aligned with the terrorist group for “embracing the devil.”

Mohamed got seven years.

But three years later, he was already out of prison on statutory release, although his parole report said he had not abandoned extremist ideology and remained a “significant” risk.

He was one of five terrorism offenders released from Canadian prisons in 2019, despite concerns raised by parole boards that four of them still posed a risk to public safety.

At least three more could be released this year.

Mohamed Hersi, sentenced to 10 years in 2014 for participating in the activities of the Somali terrorist group Al Shabab, is scheduled for statutory release on December 23.

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Meanwhile, Rehab Dughmosh became eligible for day parole on Feb. 7, and Ismael Habib will be eligible on May 22. Both are eligible for full parole later this year.

None of those released last year are known to have committed violence since leaving prison, but parole board reports obtained by Global News suggest Canadian terrorism offenders are coming out still radicalized.

“There is no evidence to indicate that you are committed to changing your extremist ideological beliefs,” the Parole Board of Canada wrote two weeks before Kevin Omar Mohamed’s statutory release on March 2019.

The dangers that poses have become evident in the United Kingdom.

Attacks in London on Feb. 2, 2020 and Nov. 29, 2019 were carried out by terrorism offenders recently let out of prison after serving half their sentences, a policy the British government is now scrambling to undo.

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Emergency legislation enacted in the U.K. on Feb. 26 ended automatic early release for those convicted of terrorism crimes, who now have to serve at least two-thirds of their sentences and face restrictions upon their release.

A Feb. 21 hammer attack that killed a 64-year-old woman on a Toronto street, and the subsequent police allegation that it was an act of terrorism, is a reminder that Canada has its own problems with extremist violence.

In Canada, most terrorism sentences since 2016 have been seven years or less, a review of Public Prosecution Service of Canada records shows. With time-and-a-half credit for pre-trial custody, and statutory release at the two-thirds mark, they are in fact substantially shorter.

Even Dughmosh, sentenced to seven years on Feb. 14, 2019 for trying to join ISIS and a 2017 attack at a Toronto Canadian Tire she justified on the grounds her religion instructed her to “kill every non-Muslim,” is already eligible for day parole.

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She will be eligible for full parole in August.

Whether such sentences are long enough for meaningful de-radicalization to occur undoubtedly depends on the individual, but documents obtained by Global News show the parole system has been struggling with terrorism offenders.

In their reports, parole boards have been raising concerns about the continued radicalization of those convicted of terrorism-related crimes who are about to be released, prompting them to make use of their authority to impose added restrictions on offenders.

Among those flagged by the parole board was Carlos Larmond.

Arrested in January 2015 while trying to fly out of Montreal to join ISIS, the Ottawa twin pleaded guilty to a terrorism offence in 2016 and was sentenced to seven years.

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Although the Parole Board said he had been rated a high risk to public safety, he was statutorily released on Dec. 26, 2019. To mitigate the dangers, parole officials imposed 11 conditions on him.

He must live at a halfway house, return there nightly and undergo treatment for radicalization. In addition, he cannot delete his internet history or operate more than one account on any social media site.

The parole board also raised the alarm about Kevin Omar Mohamed, whom the RCMP linked to both al-Qaeda and ISIS and who had written online that attacking the West was “beautiful.”

In its report, the board said it was concerned he “may continue to commit terrorist related offences” and ordered him to undergo religious counselling and abide by four other conditions upon his March 1, 2019 statutory release date.

Seven conditions were placed on Suliman Mohamed upon his Aug. 13, 2019 statutory release, notably that he participate in counselling “to deal with religious extremism.”

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The Parole Board of Canada can “impose any special conditions that it considers reasonable and necessary to further manage an offender’s risk in the community,” said spokesperson Holly Knowles.

“An offender can be returned to prison at any time if they violate their parole conditions, commit a new offence, or there is any indication that the offender poses an increased risk to the community.”

However, experts pointed to the lack of de-radicalization programming in Canadian prisons as a problem.

Volunteer prison chaplains are trying to help, and some offenders seek counselling after their release, said professor Amarnath Amarasingam, a Queen’s University terrorism expert.

After getting out of prison, one convicted member of the Toronto 18 terrorist group made his way to Syria, where he joined an armed extremist faction and was killed.

The success of several other former Toronto 18 members shows that “people can be coached to rebuild their lives,” Amarasingam said, but “for the most part, none of the radicalized offenders in prison are really getting the help they need.”

According to his parole report, Suliman Mohamed met an “instigator” at a prayer room after he “began practicing Islam more intensely.” He watched propaganda videos and ultimately pledged allegiance to ISIS.

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“You elaborated a plan, with the help of accomplices, to travel to Syria in order to join the Islamic State. Moreover, you attempted to facilitate others to do the same and declared to an accomplice that you wanted to be part of a domestic terrorist attack,” his parole report reads.

Arrested in January 2015, Mohamed could have received 10 years after he pleaded guilty in August 2016. He got seven, and once he was credited for one-and-a-half days for each day he was held awaiting trial, that became four-and-a-half years.

Prior to his release six months ago, the parole board reviewed his progress and found concerns, alleging he would “present an undue risk to society” unless additional steps were taken.

Woman guilty of terror charges in Canadian Tire attack sentenced to 7 years in prison
Woman guilty of terror charges in Canadian Tire attack sentenced to 7 years in prison
“Your thinking is still described as rigid and narrow and you had advised your CMT [case management team] that you did not feel your actions were criminal. This is concerning to the board,” the report reads.

“The Board feels that although you have made some gains we are not completely satisfied that you have completely changed your pattern of thinking in relation to extremist ideology.”

Mohamed had renounced his allegiance to ISIS and attended seven sessions (although the details were blacked out of the report before it was released to Global News).

“In the Board’s opinion, this is not sufficient to address your extremist ideology.”

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As a result, the parole board imposed “special conditions” on him: He must live at a halfway house and show his parole supervisor his cell phone billing statements listing all his incoming and outgoing calls.

He was also forbidden from using a computer that can access the internet, unless for work or school, must show his parole officer his financial statements, and can’t associate with anyone involved in criminal activity.

READ MORE: Alleged ISIS supporter released after Federal Court rejects government’s appeal

The Conservative opposition doesn’t believe such measures are good enough and is proposing to eliminate automatic statutory release when offenders have served two-thirds of their sentences.

The killing of a woman at a Quebec hotel on Jan. 22, and the subsequent arrest of an offender who had been recently paroled, has “brought to light a number of troubling issues,” said MP Pierre Paul-Hus.

“We feel that it is irresponsible to release a violent criminal, whether a terrorist or other, knowing that he/she is still a threat to Canadian safety,” said Paul-Hus, the Conservative public safety critic.

The problem is partly the result of a young terrorism offender population and a government decision not to offer de-radicalization programming to inmates, said University of Calgary law professor Michael Nesbitt.

“So it is not surprising to see parole boards acknowledging that terrorism offenders remain radicalized on release,” said the national security law expert, who has studied terrorism sentencing.

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He said current terrorism sentences separated offenders from society for a period of time, in the hope they will “emerge having changed their own minds given time in prison.”

“That is literally wishful thinking.”

Only one terrorism offender released last year satisfied the parole board he was no longer a threat: Misbahuddin Ahmed, who had been recruited by an al-Qaeda-linked extremist plotting bombings in Canada.

Ahmed was arrested in Ottawa in 2010, found guilty of two terrorism offences and sentenced to 12 years in 2014. He was granted day parole in 2017 and full parole on April 30, 2019.

The parole board imposed four conditions on him, including religious counselling. But it was largely satisfied he had undergone “introspection and reflection” and abandoned terrorism.

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“It is the Board’s opinion that you will not present an undue risk to society if released and that your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen,” his last parole report read.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca