VANCOUVER – A British Columbia man has been charged under a new anti-terrorism law for allegedly leaving the country to join Islamist fighters in Syria.
It’s the first time the recent Criminal Code legislation has been used as a tool to fight terrorism, said RCMP Cpl. David Falls.
Police say 25-year-old Hasibullah Yusufzai is accused of committing an offence for the benefit of a terrorist group or was directed by or associated with such a group.
“The individual is known to have travelled to Syria to join Islamist fighters,” the RCMP said in a statement.
It’s alleged Yusufzai left Canada on Jan. 21.
“This case underscores the reality that there are individuals in Canada who have embraced the extremist ideology and who are willing to act upon it,” the statement said.
“More importantly, it highlights the fact that there are new tools within the Criminal Code that enhance the RCMP’s ability to counter terrorist activity.”
A woman who answered the phone at Yusufzai’s home in Burnaby said he wasn’t there, and then said she didn’t speak English.
A neighbour named Nasir Ahmad-Ali said he hasn’t seen Yusufzai for almost a year. He said Yusufzai went by the name Hasib, seemed to move around a lot and lived at times with his girlfriend.
Before losing touch with Yusufzai, they had hung out, “smoking weed and cigarettes and drinking sometimes.”
Ahmad-Ali, who has lived in the same apartment as Yusufzai for seven years, said he believed the young man spent most of his childhood in the area and worked at the nearby mall.
“He was OK. He was a really nice guy,” Ahmad-Ali said, adding that the charges are surprising.
“He wasn’t that kind of person, actually, to be honest. He wasn’t religious.”
Yusufzai’s mother and father lived nearby and he had two brothers, Ahmad-Ali said.
Yusufzai worked for five years for Concord Security as a guard in two Metro Vancouver malls.
Concord vice-president Mark Forward said he was likable, and performed his job well.
In January, Forward said Yusufzai disappeared.
“He just left, I don’t think we got any notice of it,” said Forward. “We haven’t heard from him since.”
Roh Yusufzai told The Globe and Mail that his brother wasn’t in Syria and went to Turkey for the month of Ramadan. He said his brother isn’t capable of joining a terrorist group or being violent.
Mounties say they’re working on the case with their international partners.
“The RCMP is concerned about Canadians travelling abroad to participate in terrorist-related criminal activity,” the statement from the force said.
It said countering the radicalization that leads to violence also depends on the public taking an active role, including helping police by reporting suspicious or illegal activity.
“In conjunction with local police, the RCMP outreach and engagement activities are designed to help Canadian communities and families see the indicators of vulnerability to violent extremism, and understand the responsibilities they share with law enforcement in maintaining Canada’s national security.”
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the investigation underscores the reality that there are people leaving Canada to take part in terrorist activities.
He said the new legislation enhances the force’s ability to combat terrorists’ activities.
“These charges reaffirm the RCMP’s resolve to aggressively pursue terrorist acts to the fullest extent of the law.”
The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Michel Coulombe, told a senate committee in February that there are 130 Canadians working abroad in support of extremist activities.
Coulombe said at least 30 of those are working in Syria.
In May, 28-year-old Mohamed Hassan Hersi was convicted by a court in Brampton, Ont., of attempting to participate in the activities of a terrorist group and counselling a person to participate in terrorist activity.