Terror-related charges laid against Edmonton-area teen

A 17-year-old from the Edmonton area has been charged with a terror-related offences after trying to leave the country to join the Islamic State, police say.

Teen accused of trying to leave Canada to join ISIS fighters overseas

The black flag of ISIS flies over vast tracts of territory in Syria and northern Iraq. A teenage boy from Alberta was arrested this week, with police claiming he was trying to leave the country to join the group. (Reuters)

A teenage boy from the Edmonton area has been charged with trying to leave Canada to commit an act of terror, CBC News has learned.

The 17-year-old was arrested Thursday in Beaumont, south of the city, by the RCMP's integrated national security enforcement team.

The teen was charged with trying to leave the country to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an organization that controls a vast tract of territory in Syria and northern Iraq and has become infamous for its cruelty.

The suspect, who can't be identified because he is under the age of 18, faces two charges: That he tried to leave Canada to commit an act of terror, and that he tried to leave the country to join a terrorist group.

The charges accuse the teen of trying to leave the country for the purpose of committing "murder in circumstances that constitute terrorist activity." 

CBC News confirmed Friday that the teen was not a student at a Catholic or public school in Beaumont. The address he gave to authorities is for a house in the town owned by a retired former police officer.

The teen appeared before a justice of the peace yesterday and was denied bail. He is scheduled to return to court on April 9.

New charges under Criminal Code

The charges the teen faces were added to the Criminal Code in 2013, as part of the Combating Terrorism Act. Before that, there was no legal deterrent for people who intend to leave the country to commit terrorist offences or join a terrorist group, said Christian Leuprecht, associate dean of the department of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont.

"Laying charges under the Criminal Code means that you need to meet a fairly high standard of evidence, and that the evidence is sufficient for the Crown to have a reasonable chance of obtaining a conviction," said Leuprecht, whose research specialties deal with terrorism, national security, defence policy and politically motivated violent extremism.

"So, it suggests that, by virtue of these charges having been laid, that it was a fairly robust investigation."

Investigations of this type often start with a tip, he said. Tips can come from someone in the community, or at a school, or from parents, or even from a foreign intelligence agency.

Terror-related investigations are usually led by integrated national security enforcement teams, or INSETs, made up of members of the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Canada Border Services Agency, and provincial and local police.

The teams investigate and gather intelligence about groups or individuals suspected of posing threats to national security. There are INSET teams in Edmonton/Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

INSET investigations often take several months, Leuprecht said, and can include everything from surveillance to special warrants that allow police to read emails and text messages, and listen to phone calls.

"Throughout this investigation, our focus remained on the safety and protection of the public," the RCMP said in a statement Friday.

"While it may be difficult for parents to come forward to the police, it is important for families and communities to contact police as soon as they suspect that an individual is being radicalized."

This latest case comes on the heels of several others in the Edmonton area in recent months.

Three Edmonton cousins were killed last year while fighting overseas for ISIS, the father of one of the men told CBC News in January.

Ahmed Hirsi, said his 20-year-old son, Mahad, died last fall along with cousins Hamsa and Hersi Kariye. Another cousin from Minnesota, HanadAbdullahiMohallim, was also killed, Hirsi said.

His son and two nephews left Edmonton without telling him in October 2013. He heard from Mahad for the last time when he called from Egypt to say he intended to leave for Syria.

Woman recruited

In another case, a young Canadian woman made her way to Syria last summer, according to her family.

The family alleges the woman was recruited under the guise of an online class to study the Qur'an taught by a woman in Edmonton. But instead she learned how to get to the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa in Syria. When the woman called home from abroad, she told her family she was never coming home — that Syria was where she was going to die.

CBC News has confirmed the identity of the alleged recruiter in Edmonton, but she has not been charged in connection with the case.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service declined to comment on that specific case, but said at the time in an emailed statement that terrorism "including radicalization of Canadians and terrorist travel remains the most prominent threat to Canadian interests and our national security."

Earlier this month, CBC News reported on the case of another Edmonton man in his mid-twenties who is thought to have joined ISIS.

Omar Aden was living in Edmonton before he left in the summer of 2013 to study Islam in Egypt, members of the Somali community who have contact with his family told CBC News.

Several months later, they say Aden called his family from Syria.

The family believes he worked in Fort McMurray, where he met extremists and became radicalized, community members said.

With files from Andrea Huncar, Janice Johnston, Gareth Hampshire