The RCMP announced March 26 the detainment of recent UW student, Kevin Mohamed, under fear of terrorism after a national security investigation. </p>
Last registered as a second-year engineering student in Spring 2015, Mohamed also faces charges for possession and concealment of a weapon. Mohamed’s defense lawyer, Anser Farooq, told CBC News that these charges were related to a knife. The RCMP has not released any more information.
At this point, Mohamed has not been charged with offences related to acts of terrorism.
In a statement by the RCMP, Superintendent Lise Crouch, the assistant criminal operations officer in Ontario explained the arrest was an attempt to avoid further radicalization.
“This arrest speaks to our ability to tackle a threat that is multifaceted and constantly evolving,” Crouch said. “While there was no indication of any plans for a domestic attack, we must remain committed to preventing individuals from travelling abroad to gain training and expertise that could be used in the planning and implementation of future attacks on Canadian soil.”
Amarnath Amarasingam, a professor at UW, explained that radicalization is “the process by which somebody becomes more and more extreme and sees the use of violence as a legitimate response to some kind of grievance they are experiencing.”
According to Amarasingam, Mohamed had an active presence on social media. For sometime, Amarasingam had followed Mohamed’s activities on Twitter. Although not confirmed, Amarasingam believed the Twitter account @abuJayyid1 belonged to the suspect as a photo of Mohamed was present on the account.
“I had noticed that he was changing his viewpoints or at least having a public debate with himself and others about which groups in Syria are legitimate to support and which groups are not and why it might be,” Amarasingam said. “I wanted to meet with him at some point to chat about what he’s thinking and what he’s debating with himself.”
The meet never happened as Amarasingam believes Mohamed didn’t feel comfortable.
Mohamed’s other activities on Twitter included, “translating certain Arabic tweets by some of the more influential Al-Qaeda operatives in Syria to English,” Amarasignam said. “He was in conversation with a lot of supporters of jihadi movements in Syria and so he was online for a while.”
Amarasingam said he is still not positive of why Mohamed was arrested or how his social media activity influenced his detainment, but has learned of rumours suggesting that Mohamed was attempting to rally others.
“There’s a rumour that he was having private conversations with people and he was encouraging [them] to do all kinds of things,” Amarasingam said. “I, of course, have no access to any of that stuff so I’m not sure if it’s true or not.”
In an article by the National Post, it was reported that Mohamed had gone to Syria in the spring of 2014.
“Nobody really seems to know what he was doing in Syria; whether he was actually fighting or whether he went for humanitarian work, or even what cities in Syria he visited. I very much doubt he went into ISIS territory because he was quite anti-ISIS from the very beginning,” Amarasingham said. “I think it’s when he came back that the RCMP became interested in him and started worrying about him, whether he got some kind of training in Syria and returning to do some kind of attack here.”
Based on his own observations, Amarasignam does not believe that Mohamed was dangerous.
“But again, this is just going by his public profile. I don’t know what he was saying or doing privately, but based on his public profile I and some other people didn’t consider him too much of a threat in that sense to the point where he would go out his way to attack Canada,” Amarasignam said.
As Mohamed’s activities in Syria are unknown, it’s hard to say whether he was there “just for some humanitarian activity or whether he was actually talking to militants and fighters and those kinds of things,” Amarasignam said.
This isn’t the first time a UW student has been charged or detained in relation to terrorism. In 2013, another former UW student was detained in relation to the Tamil Tigers, a controversial extremist group in Sri Lanka.
Amarasingham doesn’t believe that there’s anything inherent about UW that would provoke students to become interested with or susceptible to radicalized groups.
“It’s not particularly that they’re in university, but I think it’s the age when you’re reading, thinking, and participating in different political discussions,” Amarasingam said. “You could have access to different kinds of thinking and different schools of thought which could lead you down the path of radicalization.”