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Parole Board raises concerns about Toronto terrorism convict ahead of his prison release

Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab. AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File

The first person to be convicted of trying to leave Canada to join a terrorist group remains “too high a risk” a month before his scheduled release from prison, according to the Parole Board of Canada.

In a decision released Tuesday, the Parole Board said Mohamed Hassan Hersi’s behaviour had been mostly “terrible” since he was imprisoned in 2014 and imposed restrictions he must follow upon his release.

They include living at a halfway house, having no unsupervised access to the internet and undergoing treatment to deal with “ingrained extremist ideologies and violent behaviour.”

“Overall, the Board sees very little in your file that would suggest you are ready to return to the community as a law-abiding citizen,” according to the decision, obtained by Global News.

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

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The case is the latest in which parole officials have imposed special conditions on terrorism offenders upon their release from prison due to concerns they could return to extremist violence.

A former security guard, Hersi, 34, was arrested in 2011 while trying to board a flight to Egypt at Toronto’s Pearson airport. The RCMP alleged he was on his way to Somalia to join the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

The case marked the first time Canada had charged a suspect with attempting to participate in terrorist activity. He was also charged with counselling another person to participate in terrorist activity.

During his trial, police wiretap and other evidence suggested he aspired to a leadership position in Al-Shabaab and that he might return to Canada to “take care of” those who insulted the Muslim prophet.

Click to play video 'Exclusive: Canadian terrorism convicts leave prison still radicalized' Exclusive: Canadian terrorism convicts leave prison still radicalized
Exclusive: Canadian terrorism convicts leave prison still radicalized – Feb 28, 2020

He was convicted of two counts of terrorism in 2014 and sentenced to 10 years. In prison, he accumulated seven institutional charges. In 2017, he had to be subdued with pepper spray.

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In anticipation of his Dec. 23 statutory release — when he will be freed after serving two-thirds of his sentence — the Parole Board reviewed his case, and its Nov. 19 report flagged a list of concerns.

According to the report, Hersi said he did not subscribe to Al-Shabaab beliefs and had met regularly with imams, one of whom wrote that he had not heard him express any extremist views.

Hersi said he had been working with Project ReSet, a program for extremist offenders. He wanted to move in with his mother and hoped to return to school and volunteer at a Muslim community centre.

Read more: Man convicted of trying to join ISIS granted overnight privileges to visit ski resort with girlfriend

But the Parole Board said his family continued to profess his innocence and Hersi had not “addressed any of the dynamic risk factors which led to your plan to join a terrorist organization in the first place.”

“Although you have been working with an imam and with ReSet, it is our view that you continue to pose too high a risk for again becoming obsessed with Al-Shabaab or other jihadist organizations,” the report said.

“Noting that you were living in a stable home environment at the time of offending, and yet still became radicalized and obsessed with terrorism, the Board is not satisfied that enough has changed.”

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Before extremists began leaving Canada to join ISIS, a handful left Toronto to join Al-Shabaab. Among them were two of Hersi’s friends, one of whom is now dead.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca