Ter­ror-plot­ter gets life, not mil­lions

Lon­don judge sen­tences wannabe ter­ror­ist to life with no pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role for 16 1/2 years

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY ROSIE DIMANNO Rosie DiManno is a Lon­don-based colum­nist, syn­di­cated by Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

On the same day we learned that Canada is go­ing to make a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire out of undis­puted bomb­maker and dis­puted — if self-ad­mit­ted — U.S. sol­dier-killer Omar Khadr, a Lon­don judge sen­tenced a teenage wannabe ter­ror­ist to life in prison with no pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role for 16 1/2 years.

No con­nec­tion? There is ac­tu­ally, if only be­cause Khadr has con­vinced enough ju­di­cial and gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties that he was 1) a child sol­dier pro­tected by in­ter­na­tional covenants, left to twist in the Guan­tanamo wind by Ot­tawa, un­der both Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive regimes; and 2) that he was tor­tured while de­tained. Thus the Toronto na­tive will be com­pen­sated large.

Ad­vo­cacy goes a long way in in­flu­enc­ing public opin­ion, which in turn in­flu­ences gov­ern­ment response. And Khadr was the ben­e­fi­ciary of lawyers, hu­man rights ac­tivists and jour­nal­ists who suc­cess­fully por­trayed the young man as a victim of cir­cum­stances — most es­pe­cially grow­ing up in a rad­i­cal ji­hadist fam­ily closely con­nected to Osama bin Laden — and, you know, not re­ally so bad. Oh sure, a U.S. ser­vice­man was killed and an­other blinded in one eye dur­ing the chaotic 2002 fire­fight in Afghanistan. But maybe 15-year-old Khadr threw the grenade that caused the ca­su­al­ties and maybe he didn’t. He’s said both in the past. And now he says he can’t re­mem­ber.

In any event, Khadr has served his prison time, be­fore be­ing trans­ferred back to Canada upon plead­ing guilty to mur­der, and has spent more time in jail than a 15-year-old con­victed of mur­der would have un­der Cana­dian law. But re­ward­ing him for it, and so gen­er­ously, seems a bit much. Al­though, pre­sum­ably, a chunk of that com­pen­sa­tion — will be par­celled off to lawyers.

So that’s where Canada sets the goal­posts for bomb-mak­ers who ac­tu­ally cause car­nage. Doesn’t it make you proud?

By con­trast, the Lon­don judge handed down the stiffest penalty pos­si­ble — life, with a min­i­mum that must be served — against 19-year-old Ha­roon Syed, whose plot­ting in­cluded tar­get­ing of an El­ton John con­cert at Hyde Park on the an­niver­sary last year of Sept. 11.

(Al­though the U.K. has also com­pen­sated na­tion­als who were de­tained in Guan­tanamo, in­clud­ing the Mus­lim con­vert who re­ceived $1.25 mil­lion be­fore lam­ming it to Syria and then blow­ing him­self up in a sui­cide at­tack on a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity in Mo­sul.)

Syed never got his hands on the nail-packed bomb he cov­eted, or the ma­chine gun, or the sui­cide vests. For one thing, the man he was ne­go­ti­at­ing with was in fact an un­der­cover se­cu­rity of­fi­cer, as was heard dur­ing trial at the Old Bai­ley.

Back when Syed was ar­rested, on Sept. 8 last year, the idea of an in­di­vid­ual as­sailant at­tack­ing a mas­sive rock con­cert might have sounded far­fetched. Now, post-Manch­ester, we know bet­ter. Searches of his com­puter, and recorded com­mu­ni­ca­tions he had with his on­line arms con­tact “Abu Yusuf” - the un­der­cover agent showed, court heard, that Syed was cast­ing about for “packed places in Lon­don” wor­thy of his an­niver­sary as­sault, in­clud­ing Ox­ford St. and Buck­ing­ham Palace, mil­i­tary bar­racks and the Old Bai­ley, which he hoped to pay for by tak­ing out bank loans. Ex­cept his loan ap­pli­ca­tions were de­nied and, ul­ti­mately, Syed could only come up with about $300 for a home­made nail bomb — “those sharp things lots of them in­side.”

The de­fence, pur­su­ing the usual ex­cul­pa­tion, ar­gued that Syed was vul­ner­a­ble to rad­i­cal­iza­tion be­cause of a tur­bu­lent fam­ily back­ground, lack of ed­u­ca­tion — though he was an IT col­lege stu­dent — ig­no­rance about Is­lam and ad­dic­tion to vi­o­lent on­line games, his bomb­ing plans a “fan­tasy” in­dis­tin­guish­able from the games he played on his com­puter. The judge didn’t buy any of it. At that time, po­lice seized Syed’s pass­port be­cause they feared he might at­tempt to join ji­hadists in Syria. Yet he was never red-flagged to Pre­vent, the gov­ern­ment’s anti-rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­gram for in­ter­ven­tion. When po­lice ar­rested Syed, raid­ing his home in west Lon­don, they found his mo­bile phone on the top bunk in his bed­room. They asked for the pass­word.

Syed: “Yeah, ISIS. You like that?”

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