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Ontario man dubbed 'high risk to public safety' after trying to join terror group set for release

An Ontario man who travelled to Syria to support an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group is set to be released — despite being considered of "high risk to public safety," according to a decision by the Parole Board of Canada.

Kevin Omar Mohamed is set for release amid concerns from parole board he hasn't been deradicalized

This undated Twitter profile picture was linked by counter-terrorism researchers to Kevin Omar Mohamed who is set to be released from jail. (Twitter)

An Ontario man who travelled to Syria to support an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group is set to be released from prison — despite being considered of "high risk to public safety," according to a decision by the Parole Board of Canada.

Kevin Omar Mohamed, now 26, pleaded guilty in June 2017 to participating in the activity of a terror group. He was later sentenced to four and a half years behind bars, receiving two and a half years credit for time served. He had no prior criminal history.

His sentence is set to expire in October 2019 and it's unclear when exactly he will be released. 

According to the parole board decision obtained by CBC News, Mohamed travelled to Turkey in 2014 where he met members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a known terrorist group, and was smuggled in the trunk of a car to Syria.

Once there, the former University of Waterloo student tweeted out invitations for others to join the cause, giving detailed instructions on how a person could cross from Turkey into Syria.

It wasn't until his mother eventually reached him by email and his older brother flew to Turkey to meet him that Mohamed returned home.

But his fascination with terror didn't end there.

'Attacking the West'

Back in Canada, police said he used two separate Twitter accounts to post "comments supportive of terrorist activities, promote violence, and suggested that a person could create timed bombs to be put on planes or boats."

Mohamed also urged people to "burn cars of 'non-believers'" and "commented on the beauty of attacking the West," police said. 

In February 2016, after an argument with his mother, Mohamed left her Whitby, Ont., home and found himself on the street.

Police would track him for six days until suddenly he went "offline" and removed $3,500 from his bank account, according to a statement of facts submitted in court. Ten days later, police found him tweeting about how one might join Jabhat al-Nusra while on the run, and inquiring about extradition treaties with the U.S.

There is no evidence to indicate that you are committed to changing your extremist ideological beliefs.- Parole Board of Canada decision

His mother reported him missing later that month.

In March 2016, Mohamed was arrested after being found sleeping in empty rooms on the University of Waterloo campus. He was found with what police said was a large hunting knife, work gloves, a large quantity of money and handwritten notes taken down from al-Qaeda publications on how to plan and carry out an attack. 

CBC News previously reported the Mohamed was linked by counter-terrorism researchers to the online persona "Abu Jayyid."

'Radical religious beliefs'

Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher on extremism, said Mohamed, described by friends as "a bit of a loner" with "weird views," didn't seem all that concerning at first.

"He seemed mostly to be engaged in a theological and intellectual engagement with issues of jihad and Syria."

But on March 24, 2016 — two days after a series of coordinated suicide bombings struck Brussels — Abu Jayyid posted a tweet asking how to modify a popular video game to be set to the scene of the city's airport. 
A tweet asking how to change a violent video game to include the Brussels attacks was posted from an account that a researcher identified as belonging to Mohamed. (Twitter)

As part of his release, Mohamed is subject to a range of conditions including: not associating with individuals engaged in terror activities or who are criminally active, living with family, not engaging in unsupervised internet use and undergoing religious counseling. 

But since Mohamed has not participated in "any interventions geared toward deradicalization, there is no evidence to indicate that" he is committed to changing his "extremist ideological beliefs," the Parole Board said. 

"The board remains very concerned that the serious nature of your offences alone coupled with your dangerous radical religious beliefs would impede your reintegration and continue to present significant risk to the community."

'Under careful watch'

While the board has mandated Mohamed to "reach out to an imam in the community," it did not offer specifics on the terms of the religious counseling imposed. 

Mohamed's offences "were triggered by political grievances and extremist interpretations of Islam," the decision said.

It's unclear why Mohamed was not explicitly mandated to attend a government-funded deradicalization program. 

"His motivation was to help Syrians with the humanitarian crisis. However, he recognized that he went about it the wrong way," his lawyer Paul Slansky told CBC News.

"Although not motivated by radical thought, he acknowledged having said things that appeared to reflect such thoughts," he said.

Slansky added that in his view the parole board, "notoriously disinclined to release in terrorism cases, must believe that is not high risk or that the risks are manageable," adding risk is best managed gradually through the parole process.

In a statement, Parole Board spokesperson Kerry Gatien said managing board-imposed conditions falls to the Correctional Service of Canada under the purview of the Department of Public Safety.

Canadian law mandates that offenders serve the final third of their sentences in the community "under supervision with strict conditions," said a statement on behalf of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office. "This allows for gradual release under careful watch, instead of releasing offenders 'cold turkey' at the end of their sentence, which would be far less safe."

Offenders who breach their conditions or endanger public safety in any way can be returned to custody, said the statement from spokesperson Scott Bardsley. 

The statement went on to say "the laws under which Mr. Mohamed was sentenced and will receive statutory release remain the same as they were under the previous Conservative government."

Bardsley said he couldn't comment on operational matters related to national security.

He said the government has "robust measures to address potential terrorist threats," and can employ tools such as surveillance, no-fly listings and peace bonds as part of its threat-reduction measures.