An Ontario man was handed a four-year sentence on Wednesday after admitting he travelled to Turkey in 2019 with the intention of crossing into Syria to join ISIS.
But Ikar Mao was to be released based on the 18 months he has already served in custody, after the court gave him credit for the time he was detained in Turkey and the “harsh” conditions he faced awaiting trial in Ontario.
The 23-year-old, who left Canada with his wife in June 2019, was also give 12 months of probation, must take counselling and is banned from possessing weapons.
“I don’t think that the public has anything at all to fear from Mr. Mao,” his lawyer Nader Hasan said following the sentencing in the Superior Court of Justice in Brampton, Ont.
After downloading a guidebook on how to join ISIS, Mao flew to Tunisia with his wife Haleema Mustafa. The couple then made their way to southern Turkey.
On July 11, 2019, Mao sent an email to their families saying they were making “hijra,” a term that means migration but that was used by ISIS to refer to migration to the Islamic State.
In the email, Mao blamed the Western media for demonizing ISIS, cited Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and spoke of a religious duty not to live among “disbelievers,” according to newly unsealed allegations.
The email prompted family to report them to the RCMP, and the couple were arrested by Turkish police not far from the Syrian border. They were held for three months and returned to Canada.
According to allegations that could not be reported until now due to a publication ban, shortly after Mao’s return to Canada, a police surveillance team saw him “acting suspiciously.”
“He attended a second-hand store where he purchased a mannequin torso and looked at knives,” federal prosecutor Howard Piafsky alleged at Mao’s bail hearing four days after his arrest.
Mao was acting “in an extremely surveillance conscious manner,” Piafsy said, alleging Mao met with people in “isolated locations,” drove erratically and was “constantly looking around.”
“He was also seen parked for a short period of time in a parking lot in very close vicinity to the Guelph Cenotaph, the location of a parade and public gathering on Remembrance Day,” Piafsky told the court.
As a result, he was arrested on a terrorism peace bond the day before Remembrance Day. He was released on conditions, but arrested again on Dec. 5 on two counts of terrorism alleging he had tried to join ISIS.
The cenotaph incident was absent from a three-page agreed statement of facts read into the court record when Mao entered his guilty plea. But it was raised at his bail proceedings.
Mao’s sentence was 49 months but he was given 28 and a half months for the time he had spent in pre-trial custody, and an additional 18 months in recognition of the conditions of his detention.
The judge said lockdowns, staff shortages and COVID-19 made his time awaiting trial more harsh. Mao was also given three months’ credit for the time he was detained in Turkey.
Federal prosecutors withdrew a second terrorism charge against him, and also stayed two terrorism charges against Mustafa, who has agreed to undergo counselling.
Piafsky told the court the charges were stayed because she played a “lesser role” in the “joint venture,” and said she does not appear to pose a threat, but if that changed, authorities would respond in an “appropriate manner.”
“In my view, this is the right result and it’s in the public interest,” her lawyer Faisal Mirza said, adding Mustafa did not admit to any wrongdoing and did not support violence.
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