Parole Board says measures needed to ‘protect society’ as Canadian terrorism convict is released

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Almost a decade after he became the first person convicted of trying to leave Canada to join a terrorist group, Mohamed Hersi is being released from prison amid concerns he remains a threat.

In a decision released on Monday, the Parole Board of Canada said that while the would-be Al-Shabab member was set for mandatory statutory release, he still required close monitoring.

Citing Hersi’s “propensity for violence,” the Parole Board ordered the 37-year-old to undergo treatment “to address ingrained extremist ideologies” and “violent behaviour.”

He must also live at a halfway house upon his release, can own only one cell phone, and is not permitted to use a computer capable of accessing the internet, the Board wrote in its decision.

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“In essence, you have entertained terrorist ideology, denied culpability, shown poor institutional behaviour, have been non-compliant on conditional release, and have been aggressive, threatening and inappropriate towards supervisors,” the decision read.

“Altogether, then, your behaviours reflect violent propensity and present a serious level of risk to re-offend, and that ought to be carefully managed to protect society.”

The Correctional Service of Canada had recommended the release conditions, saying Hersi required strict monitoring given his behaviour and “clear interest in involvement with a terrorist organization.”

Mohamed Hersi, a Toronto security guard convicted of trying to join Al-Shabab.
Mohamed Hersi, a Toronto security guard convicted of trying to join Al-Shabab. Social Media

Hersi fled the civil war in Somalia with his family and arrived in Canada as a refugee with his mother at the age of five. He worked as a security guard and complained about “racist and Islamophobic treatment.”

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The RCMP arrested Hersi in 2011 as he was boarding a plane at Toronto’s Pearson airport. At his trial, it emerged that he had tried to recruit an undercover police officer to join Al-Shabab.

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He was convicted in 2014 of trying to leave Canada to join Al-Shabab, the terrorist group that has killed hundreds in Somalia and surrounding countries, and threatened attacks in Canada.

He was sentenced to 10 years.

“You were literally just a few steps from participating in a group that unashamedly stood for terrorism and extremism. That altogether toxic mix of behaviours points to the heightened risk you pose,” the Parole Board wrote in its decision.

During his time in prison, Hersi was cited for 20 incidents, including assaulting an inmate, contraband, being under the influence, theft, disruptive behaviour and disciplinary problems.

He was first released in December 2020, but the Parole Board said his conduct was “not very inspiring.” He was taken back into custody after he threatened a staff member at his halfway house.

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Released a second time, he “engaged in similar types of threatening behaviour” and was locked up once again. A search of his room turned up two unauthorized cell phones in the lining of a suitcase.

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The board wrote that his file showed he had abandoned extremist views, completed programming in prison and participated in the debate club, book club and Project Reset, a counter-radicalization program.

He was an “accomplished person,” who had attended university and had “good family supports,” the board said. But it added that his “propensity for violence outweighs these positives.”

The first case of its kind in Canada, the prosecution of Hersi took place around the time Canadian extremists were beginning to leave the country for Syria and Iraq to join the so-called Islamic State.

While many Canadian ISIS members were killed in combat and airstrikes, some were captured by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters and detained in prisons and camps in northeast Syria.

The Canadian government repatriated four women and their children from those camps on April 6. Three were arrested on terrorism peace bonds and released, but not have been charged.

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