National Post (Latest Edition)

‘No reason to fear’ man with terror links

Crown drops peace bond for good behaviour

- 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The peace bond was withdrawn at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse Tuesday because the Crown felt that, due to the measures Aldabous had taken largely on his own initiative, there were no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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