September 24, 2021

-Global News

Six months after Kevin Omar Mohamed‘s prison sentence for terrorism came to an end, the RCMP’s Toronto O-INSET national security team decided to check up on him.

What they found set off alarms.

Not only was he violating his probation by using a smartphone, he’d downloaded al-Qaeda literature, manuals on bombs and poisons, and a tract justifying the killing of women and children, according to allegations filed in court.

He was also seen meeting with Daniel Khoshnood, another former inmate who had a history of violence and whose phone contained more than 200 Taliban, ISIS and al-Qaeda videos, as well as bomb-making guides, according to the allegations.

Both were arrested as potential national security threats.

Little was disclosed at the time, but details of the police investigations into Mohamed and Khoshnood were recently released by the Ontario court following a request by Global News.

The two reports by the Ontario Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (O-INSET) provide the first look at why the alleged associates were arrested on the grounds they might commit terrorist offences.

Mohamed’s phone contained “a large amount of information that could be used to carry out a terrorist attack, including multiple bomb-making guides, and extremist ideological material”, the O-INSET reports alleged.

Similarly, a search of Khoshnood’s phone turned up many of the same how-to guides, they alleged.

O-INSET also wrote that Khoshnood seemed to align himself with the Taliban, using the terms “we” and “us” when he wrote about the militant group on YouTube.

“We will keep sending out suicide bombers,” he allegedly wrote. “Taliban is the true Islamic force.”

“We will die for our cause. We will never give up. People might not like us but we will force them to respect us. We are a force to be reckoned with. We are not scared of death and we are ready to take on the whole world. Islam will dominate the world which is on our prophecies.”

The documents show police devoted considerable resources to the investigations, but in the end, did not press any charges.

Instead, the results for both Mohamed, 28, and Khoshnood, 30, were terrorism peace bonds that saw them released but ordered to follow a list of conditions that include a ban on driving and wearing an ankle bracelet.

“It’s meant to be supervisory,” Mohamed’s lawyer, Paul Slansky, said of the peace bond.

He said his client had not contested the peace bond, but was not radicalized and just wanted to get on with his life.

“I don’t think he’s up to anything,” Slansky said.

Police drew inferences from materials on Mohamed’s phone, he said, but downloading documents doesn’t mean you agree with them, or have even read them.

“It doesn’t mean that he is planning on doing any of these things.”

Nor does it mean he was part of a conspiracy because he allegedly met with someone.

Khoshnood’s lawyer Paul Scotland declined to comment, saying the court exhibits “speak for themselves.”

Terrorism peace bonds are used by police to manage the risk posed by suspected violent extremists, without actually charging them.

“They are a means of establishing some control over individuals short of a charge or conviction,” reads a 2016 RCMP document.

But they don’t always work.

Aaron Driver was on a terrorism peace bond five years ago when he recorded a video pledging allegiance to ISIS and detonated a bomb, injuring a cabbie after police cornered him near London, Ont.

Attacks in the United Kingdom and Austria have similarly been carried out by “known wolves,” and on Sept. 3 an ISIS supporter, released from prison just two months earlier, stabbed seven shoppers in a New Zealand supermarket.

“I think in this case there’s a real limit to what police can do,” said Jessica Davis, president of Insight Threat Intelligence and a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst. “So they’re just using whatever tools they have.”

But she said that following the Auckland attack, the cases raised questions about what volume of resources to put into surveillance of extremists, Canada’s tolerance for risk, and civil liberties.

“That’s all part of the balance here, and it’s not an easy one to strike,” she said.

The investigations

At a time attacks can happen without warning, using vehicles, hammers and knives as weapons, Mohamed’s release from prison in 2019 raised concerns.

In April 2014, he had traveled to Syria to join Jabhat-al-Nusrah, which the Canadian government calls “an al-Qaeda-affiliated Sunni militant Islamist group.”

He didn’t last long.

His mother and brother came looking for him and he returned to Canada after only a few weeks, but he then took to social media to call for attacks in Western countries, writing “strike the kuffar [non-believers] in their homes.”

Slansky said the social media posts were online “puffery,” adding “I don’t think he was really radicalized at any point, and I don’t think he is now.”

Before his four-and-a-half-year prison term ended on Oct. 30, 2019, the Parole Board of Canada wrote that there was no indication he was committed to changing his “extremist ideological beliefs.”

“Thus, the Board is concerned that you may continue to commit terrorist-related offences.”

Durham Regional Police were watching him on Nov. 19, 2019 when he came out of the Salaheddin mosque in Toronto and walk to a strip mall pizza shop, according to the O-INSET allegations filed in court.

The police reports alleged he was accompanied by Khoshnood, who was also fresh out of prison.

In 2010, Khoshnood shot a man 13 times with a pellet gun while robbing him in a park, the documents said.

Two years later, he walked into a Toronto hotel, pepper-sprayed two victims, pointed a handgun at an employee and left with $1,000 in cash. He then tried to rob two jewelry stores and was arrested.

While in prison, Khoshnood expressed “thoughts of shooting people, killing people, cutting them up, just for fun,” according to the Parole Board, which noted he scored “unusually high in psychopathy.”

The Parole Board also said he threatened to slit the throat of a corrections officer and to plant bombs in the prison parking lot, and allegedly asked for books on “Islamic extremist militant groups” and bomb-making.

It’s unclear how Mohamed and Khoshood became acquainted, but in January 2020, they began exchanging text messages, according to the investigation reports.

In one text, Khoshnood told Mohamed he’d dreamed that spies were following him, and had traced him through his phone, according to the allegations filed in court.

“I don’t want to get seen by [a] spy,” he wrote on Feb. 9, 2020. “I can’t have heat on me.”

The O-INSET investigation began in April 2020.

Its purpose was to find out whether Mohamed was complying with the conditions of his probation, which among other things forbid him from possessing a phone that could access the internet.

The Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Terrorism Section, as well as the Durham and Toronto police forces, were all involved in the surveillance operation along with the Toronto O-INSET.

It took three months to catch him slipping up.

The first arrest

On July 8, 2020, an officer photographed a man alleged to be Mohamed waiting for a bus in Pickering, Ont. He was holding a Samsung smartphone — a probation violation. He was arrested that afternoon in Toronto.

He was released, but police sent his phone to a forensic unit for analysis. The surveillance team also kept on his trail, and on July 30, 2020, he was seen in Toronto’s Bloor-Yonge subway station meeting again with Khoshnood, according to the police allegations entered in court.

By Aug. 21, 2020, police said, they had gone through Mohamed’s phone.

Stored on the device, they alleged they found materials such as the Mujahedin Poisons Handbook, the Global Islamic Resistance Call and MujGuide, which shows how to make various types of improvised explosive devices, such as a “martyrdom belt.”

“Some PDF documents located on Mohamed’s device were found to be documents focused on jihadi ideology produced for or by listed terrorist entities such as al-Qaeda,” the documents further alleged.

It said that “other documents referenced the Islamic State (ISIS).”

Police got warrants and searched Mohamed’s residences in Toronto and Whitby the next day. They found a Remington Air Master pellet gun and a Swiss Army handgun-style pellet gun, the court documents alleged.

Mohamed was arrested again on Aug. 23, this time on a terrorism peace bond that alleged he “may commit a terrorism offence.”

The second arrest

The other revelation to emerge from Mohamed’s phone was that he’d been exchanging messages with Khoshnood using the apps Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp, the reports on the police investigations alleged.

Police arrested Khoshnood on March 23, 2021, for allegedly breaching his probation conditions, which similarly banned him from having a phone.

He denied knowing Mohamed and said it wasn’t him in the surveillance photos.

A search of Khoshnood’s phone, however, turned up “a large amount of material that could be used to carry out a terrorist attack, including multiple bomb-making guides, extremist ideological material, violent propaganda videos depicting murders, as well as captured conversations wherein Khoshnood identifies himself as an extremist,” according to the allegations.

Investigators also alleged they found out he had been collecting information about two Corrections Canada employees – a parole officer and a psychologist. Both had dealt with him when he was imprisoned.

On April 16, 2021, police arrested Khoshnood on a terrorism peace bond. Prosecutors alleged that “reasonable and appropriate” restrictions were needed to ensure his “good conduct.”

“Together with evidence of Khoshnood’s previous utterances to commit a terrorist-like attack, there are reasonable grounds to believe that Khoshnood may commit a terrorism offence,” they wrote.

Mohamed’s peace bond went into effect in May. It lasts four years. Khoshnood’s peace bond was granted in August and is more limited in duration, lasting only 10 months.

“This is a peace bond which is very well supported by extensive surveillance,” said University of Calgary law professor Michael Nesbitt, who reviewed the documents.

“The flip side is, look how much surveillance it took to get a peace bond.”