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

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.

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.

Emergency legislation introduced in the U.K. on Feb. 11 would end automatic early release for those convicted of terrorism crimes, who would 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.

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.

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.”

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.

“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.

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