‘No rea­son to fear’ man with ter­ror links

Crown drops peace bond for good be­hav­iour

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Ste­wart Bell

TORONTO •A part- time Toronto se­cu­rity guard and busi­ness stu­dent, Ab­dul Aziz Ald­abous came to the at­ten­tion of RCMP na­tional se­cu­rity in­ves­ti­ga­tors last April over his so­cial me­dia links with ISIL ter­ror­ists.

His on­line con­fi­dants in­cluded the failed Cana­dian sui­cide bomber Aaron Driver, an Amer­i­can killed while at­tempt­ing an at­tack in Texas linked to the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant, a prom­i­nent ISIL fighter in Syria, and Bri­tain’s youngest con­victed ter­ror­ist.

The RCMP ar­rested Ald­abous on a ter­ror­ism peace bond in Septem­ber 2015. A search of his com­puter turned up ma­te­ri­als re­flect­ing his sup­port for what a court doc­u­ment called “the rad­i­cal ji­hadist cause.”

But after he was re­leased on bail, Ald­abous went to a psy­chol­o­gist and be­gan coun­selling un­der the guid­ance of a prom­i­nent Toronto imam, Yousuf Ba­dat. Now, 14 months later, fed­eral prose­cu­tors have ended their case against him.

The peace bond was with­drawn at Toronto’s Old City Hall court­house Tues­day be­cause the Crown felt that, due to the mea­sures Ald­abous had taken largely on his own ini­tia­tive, there were no longer grounds to fear he would en­gage in ter­ror­ism.

“Since his ar­rest Mr. Ald­abous has taken sev­eral pos­i­tive steps to move be­yond his past trou­bling on­line be­hav­iour,” reads an agreed state­ment of facts filed with the On­tario Court of Jus­tice.

“In light of the steps taken vol­un­tar­ily by Mr. Ald­abous … it is the po­si­tion of the Crown that there are no rea­son­able grounds, at this time, to fear that Mr. Ald­abous may com­mit a ter­ror­ism of­fence and it is there­fore with­draw­ing its ap­pli­ca­tion for the pre­ven­tive peace bond.”

The ter­ror­ism peace bond sys­tem was changed last year as part of the C- 51 re­forms en­acted by t he Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment. While pre­vi­ously po­lice had to es­tab­lish the per­son in ques­tion “will” en­gage in ter­ror­ism, the stan­dard was low­ered to “may.”

Since then, po­lice have in­creas­ingly asked the courts for peace bonds that im­pose travel and In­ter­net re­stric­tions on sus­pected ex­trem­ists, in­clud­ing those they be­lieve are pre­par­ing to join ISIL. There have been 18 such ar­rests since the be­gin­ning of 2015.

But their ef­fec­tive­ness has been in doubt since Driver was killed by po­lice Aug. 10 as he was leav­ing his home in Strathroy, Ont., in­tend­ing to con­duct a bomb­ing he said was a re­sponse to ISIL’s call for “ji­had in the lands of the cru­saders.” At the time, he was sub­ject to a peace bond that was sup­posed to limit the risks he posed.

For Ald­abous, 19, how­ever, the process ap­pears to have worked. The con­di­tions im­posed on him after his ar­rest cut him off from ISIL pro­pa­ganda and re­cruit­ment ef­forts, and helped con­tain the threat to Cana­di­ans while he got help.

Like so many oth­ers drawn to ISIL, Ald­abous seemed an un­re­mark­able young Cana­dian. He had no crim­i­nal record, lived with his par­ents in a Scar­bor­ough, Ont., apart­ment tower and worked at Paragon Se­cu­rity while study­ing at Seneca Col­lege’s Finch cam­pus.

The po­lice al­le­ga­tions were never proved in court, but the agreed state­ment of facts said he ini­tially came onto po­lice radars due to his on­line con­tact with a 14-year-old Bri­tish youth ar­rested in April, 2015, over his at­tempt to or­ches­trate an ISIL-in­spired plot to at­tack Aus­tralia’s AN­ZAC Day pa­rade.

Bri­tish in­ves­ti­ga­tors sent the ev­i­dence they found on the youth’s phones and lap­top to the RCMP’s In­te­grated Na­tional Se­cu­rity En­force­ment Team in Toronto. It al­legedly showed Ald­abous had been talk­ing with the Bri­tish youth on the Kik Mes­sen­ger so­cial me­dia plat­form.

Then on May 3, El­ton Simp­son, an Amer­i­can ISIL sup­porter, was killed while try­ing to at­tack a con­fer­ence in Gar­land, Tex., where car­toons of the Mus­lim prophet Mo­hammed were on dis­play. Six hours be­fore the un- suc­cess­ful as­sault, Simp­son posted a good­bye mes­sage in Ara­bic to seven Twit­ter ac­counts, in­clud­ing those of Ald­abous and Driver.

Po­lice served a pro­duc­tion or­der on Kik on May 14. The Crown said the ev­i­dence gath­ered from the Water­loo, Ont., com­pany showed Ald­abous had also been en­gag­ing in group chats with Ju­naid Hus­sain, a no­to­ri­ous Bri­tish ISIL fighter in Syria.

“He was a high level (ISIL) op­er­a­tive known for at­tempt­ing to re­cruit in­di­vid­u­als, par­tic­u­larly in the West, on­line,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment of facts. One of Hus­sain’s Twit­ter posts read: “Kill the dis­be­liever whether he is civil­ian or mil­i­tary.”

Ald­abous con­trib­uted 44 mes­sages to the group chats, while Driver sent 109 and Hus­sain posted 280, fed­eral Crown At­tor­ney Howard Pi­af­sky told the court. Be­tween Jan. 29 and May 4, 2015, Ald­abous ex­changed 35 mes­sages with Driver and 72 with the Bri­tish youth in group chats.

But the Bri­tish youth was Ald­abous’s “most fre­quent” con­tact, Pi­af­sky said. From March 5 to 27, they were “in ex­clu­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion” on Kik, “where over 4,236 mes­sages were ex­changed.”

In ad­di­tion, Pi­af­sky said a con­fi­den­tial source had told po­lice that Ald­abous “of­ten speaks of their (ISIL’s) ide­olo­gies and ac­tions. He browses, reads and watches ( ISIL) pro­pa­ganda videos and re­lated lit­er­a­ture on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.”

On June 5, 2015, Driver was ar­rested in Win­nipeg on a ter­ror­ism peace bond that was later up­held by the Man­i­toba court. Hus­sain was killed in a U. S. airstrike in Syria in Au­gust, 2015. The ar­rest of Ald­abous fol­lowed in Septem­ber.

The night of his ar­rest, Ald­abous “con­firmed that he sup­ported ( ISIL), was in agree­ment with ISIS and sup­ported them through so­cial me­dia, Twit­ter and Facebook,” Pi­af­sky said.

But his lawyer, Jessyca Green­wood, em­pha­sized that Ald­abous had said that “at the time when he sup­ported ( ISIL) or thought he sup­ported (ISIL), he was very con­fused. He thought that that was a phase … he real- ized that this was not — he wasn’t go­ing down the right path.”

In­stead of lay­ing crim­i­nal charges, the Crown filed for a ter­ror­ism peace bond. His fam­ily posted $15,000 in bail to get the then-18-year-old re­leased — although he still had to abide by strict con­di­tions de­signed to keep him off so­cial me­dia.

While the deeply trou­bled Driver re­fused any help, Ald­abous met Dr. Julie Freed­man, a psy­chol­o­gist, and Imam Ba­dat for “coun­selling and spir­i­tual guid­ance,” the state­ment of facts said.

“Both Dr. Freed­man and Imam Ba­dat have in­di­cated that Mr. Ald­abous made great strides in ther­apy in terms of his per­sonal in­sight into his past ac­tions and his recog­ni­tion of the need to move for­ward with his life in a pos­i­tive man­ner,” it said.

Ald­abous also vol­un­tar­ily sub­mit­ted to po­lice in­ter­views where he “ac­knowl­edged his past anti- so­cial con­duct” and sat­is­fied of­fi­cers “that he does not, at this point, present a risk to pub­lic safety and is no longer en­gaged in any so­cial me­dia and has not had any other con­tact with any rad­i­cal­ized in­di­vid­u­als or groups.”

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