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MANDEL

Terror suspect motivated by attacks in Canada?

By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

The timing is chilling — the Toronto man accused of leaving Canada to join ISIS is alleged to have travelled on a very ominous day.

Pamir Hakimzadah, 27, has been charged by the RCMP with leaving the country on or about Oct. 22, 2014 to join a terrorist group. That would be the very day that Parliament Hill was attacked and Corp. Nathan Cirillo was murdered by a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and just two days after another follower ran down Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

These are only allegations, of course, which have not been tested in court. But if Hakimzadah is convicted, did those homegrown terror attacks served as inspiration for his travels?

That is only one of the many questions that abound in this mysterious story.

If Hakimzadah travelled to Turkey in the fall of 2014 in a failed bid to join the Islamic State, why is he only being charged now, more than two years later? If Turkey turned him back, as the RCMP allege, was no government agency here notified that we had a wannabe terrorist on our hands?

If not, why not? And even more worrying, what has he been up to for the last two years?

Getting into trouble with the law, it seems.

Hakimzadah has been a resident of the Toronto South detention centre since his arrest last June on three charges, including assault causing bodily harm and uttering a threat to cause bodily harm stemming from an incident a year earlier against his sister, Saiema Hakimzadah. When the RCMP came calling at his jail cell Wednesday, they added a far different count: Leaving Canada to participate in the activity of a terrorist group — otherwise known as becoming a terror tourist.

Dressed in jeans and a grey pullover, Hakimzadah made a brief appearance just after noon on Thursday. Unlike many of his Instagram photos where he sported a full beard, the slim, handsome young man was cleanshaven. After stating his name, he glanced around to see if anyone was there for him.

The only ones looking back were reporters who filled the wooden benches in the small Old City Hall courtroom.

We were there, of course, because we have long been intrigued by the danger of homegrown disciples fighting abroad for ISIS and then returning to strike at home.

The 2016 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada found 180 people with Canadian connections are suspected of travelling abroad to fight for the terror group. “Canadian extremist travellers represent a small but notable part of the broader international problem,” the Public Safety report said. And at least 60 are now back in Canada.

Turkey is a common transit point for radicalized foreigners hoping to slip across the porous border and join ISIS in Syria. Last March, Turkish authorities intercepted and detained two GTA men suspected of being would-be combatants. The RCMP were notified and waiting when the pair was returned to Toronto. Why didn’t that happen here?

Hakimzadah’s appearance on this federal charge was delayed while defence lawyer Rishma Gupta consulted with him down in the cells.

“He’s OK; he’s shocked by these charges. He’s upset, they’re serious charges,” Gupta later told reporters.

He could face a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.

She reminded reporters that Hakimzadah should be presumed innocent and hinted that there is much that is suspicious here.

“This is a matter of national security,” the lawyer said. “We’re in a culture where anyone can be charged with terrorism. The police were investigating this since January 2016. They didn’t lay this charge until just (Wednesday) and that, to me, is something that’s suspect.”

Gupta said she’s known about the RCMP probe since shortly after her client was arrested for allegedly assaulting his sister. “I’ve been in touch with the Crown’s office regarding this terrorism investigation from the beginning, when he was arrested for the (alleged) assault. Then they started investigating on the terrorism. But I can’t say how that came about,” she said.

“We’re just going to wait for trial and I’m going to defend my client as best I can,” the lawyer added. “He’s not involved in something like that.”

France Lalonde said the government will support Pettapiece’s bill as it moves through the legislature.

Hakimzadah was remanded in custody and will appear again in court April 26 via videolink.

Read Mandel Wednesday through Saturday.