As alleged terrorists go, Khurram Syed Sher is something of an oddity. Born in Canada, the 28-year-old Montrealer completed a five-year pathology residency at McGill University in 2009, and was known as much for his outgoing sense of humour as he was for his work. “He was the glue that kept the residents together,” one of his professors said, “and a major figure who got involved within the department.”
“He had a very kind disposition,” said the professor, who spoke to Maclean’s on condition of anonymity. “He was a little quiet but very warm and he had this sense of humour.”
Sher is now in police custody on charges of conspiracy to “knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity.” In an operation dubbed “Project Samossa,” the RCMP arrested him on Aug. 27 in London, Ont., where he moved this summer, the day after Hiva Alizadeh and Misbahuddin Ahmed, two of Sher’s alleged co-conspirators, were arrested. (Police have since made a fourth arrest, though they have not released the suspect’s name.) Sher became the most visible of the alleged terrorists, thanks to his 2008 Canadian Idol audition surfacing on YouTube in the days following the arrest. Sher seemed to both charm and baffle the judges when he showed up wearing traditional Afghan garb to moonwalk and merrily butcher Avril Lavigne’s Complicated. He was hardly the basement-dwelling loner typically the stuff of terrorist clichés: a fierce Canadiens fan, Sher was the lead scorer on his ball hockey team (named Da’is, an Arabic word meaning missionary). A father of three young children, he reportedly got along famously with his neighbours in the suburb of Brossard south of Montreal before his move to London.
He was serious as well. Sher is listed as administrator of RS Foundation. The Montreal-based charity raises money for disaster relief as well as health and literacy programs in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Its website says the foundation stresses “the importance to ensure that opportunities of quality education are being provided to females.”
“The RS Foundation expresses its shock over the recent arrests in Ontario on terror-related charges, particularly that of Board member Dr. Khurram Sher,” reads a statement on the website. “As a Canadian health professional, the accused’s role was as an administrator providing advice based on his medical expertise for health and hygiene-related projects. The RS Foundation unequivocally denounces terrorism as it goes against the very essence of humanitarianism.” (Wasty did not respond to interview requests.)
According to a staff member at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, Sher did part of his residency there in gynecologic pathology. “There was no indication that he was up to anything,” said the staff member. (JGH officials declined comment.)
The St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, a 166-bed facility near London, recruited Sher as an anatomical pathologist. He began work on Aug. 3 under the direction of the hospital’s chief of pathology, Dr. Syed Fasahat Hussain Wasty.
(Reached by Maclean’s, Dr. Wasty would not comment on whether he was related in any way to Shujaat Wasty of the RS Foundation.) “We were actually quite pleased to be able to recruit him, because in smaller communities, medical resources being what they are, it becomes quite difficult to recruit pathologists,” said St. Thomas CEO Paul Collins. The hospital, Collins said, was unaware that Sher was a person of interest in a terrorism investigation. Sher was scheduled to make his second court appearance on Sept. 1. His lawyer, Anser Farooq, hopes to schedule a bail hearing before Sept. 10.