This Teen Just Became the First Person Convicted of Trying to Leave Canada to Join Terrorists

The Montreal youngster, whose identity cannot be revealed because he is a minor, was also found guilty today of robbing a convenience store at knifepoint for the benefit of a terrorist organization.
December 17, 2015, 7:05pm
Photo by the Associated Press

A 16-year-old teenager from Montreal is the first person to be convicted in Canada of trying to leave the country to join a terrorist group.

The youngster, whose identity cannot be revealed because he is a minor, was also found guilty today by a Quebec judge of robbing a convenience store at knifepoint for the benefit of a terrorist organization, after prosecutors laid out evidence of his increasing interest in Syria and the Islamic State (IS).

He had already pleaded guilty to armed robbery, for which he received a 12-month sentence.

The youth was charged under laws brought in by the previous federal government two years ago. "It is a first, it is a new infraction and it is the first conviction," prosecutor Marie-Eve Moore told reporters.

A court had previously rejected a request by the teen's lawyer to throw out one of the terrorism-related charges on the grounds that there was not enough evidence that he was acting under the direction of IS.

But prosecutors had pointed to statements made by the teen, his parents, as well as Twitter conversations between him and Martin Couture-Rouleau, who drove his car into two Canadian soldiers in Quebec last year, killing one of them, in what Canada's spy agency had called "the violent expression of an extremist ideology."

Couture-Rouleau was shot dead by police shortly after the attack.

The teenager was arrested in October 2014 after after his father found a bag with a mask, a knife and $2,000 in it.

"By alerting the authorities, his parents probably saved his life," Quebec Youth Court Judge Dominique Wilhelmy in rendering her guilty verdict, according to the Montreal Gazette.

The youth's lawyer, Tiago Murias, had argued that there was no proof that there were any ties to al Qaeda or Daesh, as IS is known. He said his client was confused when he used words like "war booty" and "jihad" and urged the court to treat him like a child soldier.

Related: Two Young Canadians Who Allegedly Tried to Join the Islamic State Returned to Quebec

Moore said she will wait for the results of psychological and pre-sentencing reports before recommending a sentence, but noted that "we have to promote his rehabilitation, his reintegration into society while continuing to protect the public from such terrorist acts."

Stéphane Berthomet, author of The Jihad Factory, called this a "textbook case" but stressed that radicalization is a result of indoctrination.

"So, I kind of feel that if we impose a sanction that goes towards imprisonment, we wouldn't really be solving the problem. Meaning that yes, we would be carrying out society's typical answer to a criminal act, but we haven't really understood that radicalization is a special form of crime," he said.

Brigitte Noel contributed to this report.