A 29-year-old Quebec man was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday after he was found guilty of attempting to join Islamic State militants abroad in Syria.
Ismael Habib was the first adult in Canada to be convicted at trial for travelling abroad to participate in terrorism, an offence that was added to the criminal code in 2013. He was found guilty this June, despite his lawyer’s attempts to have evidence against him dismissed on the basis that police tricked him into providing a confession.
A Quebec Court slapped Habib with eight years for attempting to leave Canada to fight with an extremist group, and one year for providing false information in order to obtain a passport.
Habib’s charge and conviction stands in stark contrast to the story of a young Toronto man who successfully travelled to join ISIS in Syria in 2014 and eventually became an enforcer for the group. The man, who spoke to CBC anonymously earlier this month, returned back to Canada five months later, but has never been charged with a crime despite being questioned by the RCMP and CSIS.
In 2015, a Montreal teen who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was the first person convicted of attempting to leave Canada to participate in terrorist activity. And last year, Carlos Larmond of Ottawa, pleaded guilty to the offence and other terror-related crimes, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Habib, who lived in Gatineau when he was first arrested, fell prey to a sting operation lead by the RCMP. While he was attempting to get a fake passport to travel to Syria, Habib was put in touch with a man who convinced him he was the leader of a criminal enterprise that could help him. But he ended up being an undercover officer.
In an encounter between Habib and the officer captured on video and played in court, Habib says he wants to leave Canada to live out his religious beliefs and desire to join ISIS.
Habib argued in court that he just wanted to go to Syria to see his family.
In March, Habib’s brother-in-law Wassim Boughadou, of Montreal, was arrested by counter-terrorism police in Turkey while trying to board a flight. CNN reported that he was en route to Europe. He was accused of being part of ISIS and providing weapons training to its fighters. The RCMP investigated him in 2012 as part of a cluster of seven college students who left for the Middle East at the time.
At his trial back home, Habib told the court that Boughadou was the one who tried to convince him to leave Canada to dodge the police.
In July, the Canadian government said it was looking into reports in Kurdish media that two Canadians were among a group of ISIS militants who were detained in Mosul by Iraqi forces.
In 2016, Public Safety Canada released a report on the terrorist threat in country that said the government was aware of approximately 180 individuals “with a nexus to Canada” who were suspected in engaging in terrorism abroad. Further, the report said the government is aware of another 60 “extremist travellers” who have since returned to Canada.