The facilitator of a Canadian ISIS cell renounced violent extremism on Thursday as he pleaded guilty to four counts of terrorism and was sentenced to 14 years.
Awso Peshdary, 33, told the court he believed it was “God’s favour to me” that the RCMP put a stop to his terrorist activities by arresting him in 2015.
“I, with a voice embedded with growth, maturity and years of reflection, denounce my previously-held extremist beliefs,” he said in a statement.
“I do this with the confidence that only a person who has walked out of that path can understand,” the former Ottawa student activist said.
Both the Crown and defence asked for the 14-year sentence. Taking into account the time he has already spent in custody, he will serve another 21 months, plus three years of probation.
The judge agreed, calling the sentence “fit.”
Defence lawyer Solomon Friedman said Peshdary “was addicted to jihad” at the time of his arrest, but after eight years he had turned a corner and no longer poses a public safety risk.
Peshdary now believed it was his obligation to be “kind to others,” Friedman said.
The prosecutor, Roderick Sonley, did not concede that Peshdary was rehabilitated, and noted that terrorist recruiters were “persuasive individuals.”
He said the sentence was appropriate, but asked for internet restrictions on Peshdary, whom he said had regularly viewed “unspeakable materials.”
The judge granted the internet ban, and ordered Peshdary to take part in de-radicalization counselling. He is also not allowed to take part in youth or student groups.
The evidence in the case was “horrific,” the judge said, but she wished Peshdary “all the best in the future.”
“I understand that John played a large part in his demise, but I can’t help wonder if we would have seen the same result if Awso Peshdary hadn’t influenced him the way that he did,” she wrote.
Peshdary took advantage of Maguire when he was a vulnerable student, the statement said.
“When I received the news, I aged 100 years instantly. The whole thing has made me more angry than I ever thought possible because it never had to be, and I’m pretty sure my son’s ambition in life was not to be an ISIS recruit,” she wrote.
“John doesn’t get a second chance. Peshdary does. That both angers and saddens me.”
Peshdary was a 25-year-old Ottawa big box store employee when he was arrested in 2015 on charges alleging he was an ISIS facilitator who financed recruits travelling to Syria.
After challenging the case against him for almost eight years, he finally pleaded guilty to all counts, including facilitation, conspiracy and contributing to the activities of a terrorist group.
The guilty plea comes four years after Kurdish fighters recaptured the last Syrian territory held by ISIS, which had become a magnet for extremists from western countries including Canada.
Also charged with Peshdary were two Ottawa-based ISIS members, Maguire and Khadar Khalid. Both are both believed to be among dozens of Canadians who died while fighting with ISIS.
Born in Iraq, Peshdary was first arrested by the RCMP in 2010 for his alleged role in an Ottawa-based terrorist group whose leader, Hiva Alizadeh, was trained in Afghanistan.
But he was released and, as a student activist at Algonquin College, complained on social media about “Canadian Spy agents who go around the Muslim communities trying to drag young men into terrorism charges.”
He wrote that camping, paintball and hunting had been “labeled as jihad training. Brothers and sisters we should stand up and speak out against the arrogant authority who tries to exploit our community for the benefit of gaining funding from the Canadian government.”
Police continued to investigate Peshdary’s activities and, with the help of an undercover informant in his circle, charged him once again for his alleged role in an ISIS facilitation network.
“Peshdary provided financial support to facilitate the travel to ISIS. And the others travelled abroad to become members of ISIS,” the RCMP said following his 2015 arrest.
The prosecution of Canadian ISIS suspects is continuing. The federal government has agreed to repatriate Canadian women captured during the fight against ISIS, along with their children.
The Federal Court has also ordered the government to bring back four men who hold Canadian citizenship and were caught by Kurdish anti-ISIS fighters, but Ottawa has appealed the ruling.