Awso Peshdary’s name had come up in a terrorism investigation prior to Feb. 3, 2015, when RCMP announced terrorism-related charges against the Ottawa man. Five years ago, when he was 20 years old and newly married, Peshdary found himself caught up in a major national security investigation.
The investigation, code-named Project Samossa, ultimately led to the conviction of two Ottawa men on terrorism charges, and the first-ever acquittal of a Canadian on terrorism charges for Dr. Khurram Sher, of London., Ont., who made a brief appearance on Canadian Idol.
During the investigation, RCMP had placed a bug in Peshdary's home, and believed they had recorded him assaulting his wife. Concern for her safety led investigators to end Project Samossa earlier than anticipated.
Peshdary was charged with assault but eventually acquitted after his wife refused to testify against him. Husband and wife underwent counselling at an Ottawa mosque, but separated some time later.
Peshdary was born a Shia Muslim into a family of Kurdish extraction, but converted to Sunni Islam. According to some in the Muslim community, he became a vehement opponent of Shia.
Peshdary works at Ottawa Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre, where he was shortly due to begin helping clients with their tax returns.
The centre's executive director, Wanda MacDonald, said he had been working there for nearly six months.
"People enjoyed working with him, and I really can't say much of anything else because it's a shock to me and it's news to all of us," she told CBC News Tuesday afternoon. "We're just going to, first of all, find out from our staff how they're doing, because I'm sure it's a shock to everybody."
Richard Morris, Peshdary's lawyer, met with his client Tuesday evening after his arrest.
"Awso is a serious guy. He's religious. He's concerned about his religion, but I've never found him to be anything but rational and, as I said, serious," Morris said. "He takes considered positions and when I speak with him it's clear that he's thought his positions through."
2 mosques told Peshdary to stay away
Peshdary was also involved with the Muslim Students Association at Algonquin College, participating in a public event called Islam Awareness Week last spring. He also preached sermons at the Islam Care Centre on Lisgar Street in downtown Ottawa.
He has a reputation as a radical in the community.
Two Ottawa mosques have told CBC News they asked him to stay away. One of the mosques said he was part of a group that set up a mixed martial arts training program in the mosque basement without the permission of mosque administration. The president of the mosque association also said Peshdary had tried to undermine the authority of the imam.
Another well-known Ottawa imam told CBC News he had Peshdary thrown out of the Muslim youth group Resurrection Ottawa because he suspected him of being a negative influence. He said Peshdary had sworn to him on the Qur'an that he would not try to radicalize younger people, but the imam said he later found out Peshdary had not been telling the truth.
At one time, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board allowed Peshdary to come into two high schools and give religious instruction to Muslim students. CBC News spoke with a man who replaced him as an informal religious mentor at one of the schools. He said he had been alarmed to learn what the students had been taught. He described them as very confused about the religion, and said that Peshdary had talked a lot to them about Middle Eastern politics.
CBC News has learned that Peshdary had attempted to persuade some leaders in the Ottawa Muslim community that he had been given an unfair rap — telling some that he had previously been radicalized by a CSIS informant but that he had since seen the error of his ways.