TORONTO — The first Canadian arrested under the anti-terrorism laws put in place following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has been scheduled for a hearing next month to decide if he is ready for day parole.
The hearing set for Aug. 31 will be Momin Khawaja’s first appearance before the Parole Board of Canada since he was convicted of terrorism offences in 2008 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The 37-year-old software developer was arrested in 2004 after he trained at a weapons camp in Pakistan and helped develop detonation devices for a terror group planning bomb attacks in the United Kingdom.
Day parole allows inmates to take part in “community-based activities” while still residing in prison, says the Correction Service Canada website. Khawaja is an inmate at Millhaven maximum security.
“I have a life sentence but I won’t be in jail forever,” reads Khawaja’s profile on the matchmaking website Canadian Inmates Connect Inc. “My parole eligibility started two years ago. I just need to be in the right place to get it.”
In the profile, he advised his “future miss” he was imprisoned for “moral and financial support of the anti-war occupation insurgency in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve never killed an innocent human being or harmed women and children in any way.”
But Phil Gurski, a former intelligence analyst and radicalization expert at Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, questioned Khawaja’s readiness for parole after reading his depiction of his crimes.
The author of The Threat From Within, a book about recognizing the signs of radicalization, Gurski said he had not seen Khawaja accept responsibility for his involvement in terrorism or express remorse.
The bottom line is that I don’t think that Momin Khawaja is a reformed terrorist.
“He was an aider and abettor of an attack in London that would have killed probably hundreds if not thousands, and he can somehow disassociate himself from that act of terror for which he’s been convicted,” Gurski said.
“If recognizing what he did was wrong and wanting to fix it is one of the criteria they look at for parole, then my assessment is he has shown neither. The bottom line is that I don’t think that Momin Khawaja is a reformed terrorist.”
In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen three years ago, Khawaja said he thought the detonators he was making were to be used against NATO forces in the Middle East. He said he was about to leave to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan when he was arrested.
According to the Ontario Court of Appeal, Khawaja “became involved with a terrorist group that was advancing a fertilizer bomb plot in the United Kingdom. The trial judge found that the Crown had failed to prove that the accused had actual knowledge of that plot, but that he was involved in the development of a remote trigger and that he promised to build 30 such triggers. The accused also took weapons training at a camp in Pakistan, provided financial support and technical training, and transported supplies for the group.”
A small number of “radicalized offenders” are being held in Canada’s federal prisons, where there is little in the way of programming geared toward them. A 2014 study by the corrections department found that 30 per cent of them had “purely ideological motives,” 17 per cent had criminal motives while 53 per cent had both. “The most common ideological motivations included a desire for political change, and a desire to respond to a group grievance,” it said.