National News

Ten years for man aiming to join terror group

By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - The first Canadian convicted under a law criminalizing attempts to join a terrorist group was handed the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on Thursday in a case his lawyer had argued was one of entrapment.

An Ontario Superior Court jury had convicted Mohamed Hassan Hersi in May on charges of attempting to participate in the activities of a terrorist group and providing counsel to a person to participate in terrorist activity.

In court in Brampton, Ont., Justice Deena Baltman sentenced Hersi, 28, of Toronto, a one-time security guard, to maximum and consecutive five-year terms for each count, saying he was about to become a "terror tourist."

Hersi had argued he was the victim of abuse of process, including entrapment, but Baltman dismissed the objection last month and confirmed the conviction — the first since a section of the Criminal Code on attempting to participate in a terrorist group became law in 2001.

Police arrested Hersi in March 2011 at Toronto's international airport as he waited to board a flight to Cairo via London. They alleged he planned to join Somalia's al-Shabab, an Islamic terrorist group known for its atrocities. He said he was only planning to study Arabic in Egypt.

Hersi's lawyer, Paul Slansky, said in an interview he would appeal both conviction and a sentence he called excessive. He also planned to ask for bail pending the appeal, which he said would be based on several errors, including an unfair charge to the jury and unfair trial process.

Police began investigating after a dry cleaner found a computer memory stick among clothing on which, among other things, a manual for making explosives had been downloaded.

An undercover officer who then befriended Hersi — he was born in Somalia but came to Canada as a child — testified the accused told him he planned to join al-Shabab.

While the RCMP hailed the conviction as a significant milestone, Slansky decried police methods used in the case, saying they had no reasonable grounds to investigate his client in the first place.

"The very nature of being left alone by the state is at stake," Slansky told The Canadian Press.

"They aren't supposed to be going around to people randomly and seeing if someone could be a criminal — inserting undercover officers in everyday life situations."

Slansky had requested a sentence of three to four years. Given the circumstances, he said, handing down the maximum for each offence was unreasonable.

"Generally speaking, it will be rare to be imposing the maximum sentence unless it is the worst offender and the worst offence," Slansky said. "This is not that case."

The sentencing comes a day after RCMP announced they had charged a man from Burnaby, B.C., with leaving Canada to join Islamist fighters in Syria — the first such charge under expanded provisions of the law under which Hersi was charged.

Police accused Hasibullah Yusufzai, 25, of committing an offence for the benefit of a terrorist group or was directed by or associated with such a group.

"The issue of individuals seeking to travel abroad to participate in terrorist activity remains a concern to the RCMP as they represent a threat not only to the international community but to Canada and its allies as well," the RCMP said in a statement Thursday.

"The key to the early detection of such threats resides within a collaborative approach."

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