SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) The Ottawa man RCMP say has been financing others’ travel to Syria to join Islamic State has been detained by authorities before — during what was then Canada’s most extensive anti-terrorism investigation.
Awso Peshdary is a former activist at Algonquin College whose new arrest was announced Tuesday by authorities as part of charges against three men for terrorism-related offences. The 25-year-old Iraqi-born Canadian was cast by authorities as a facilitator in a cluster of suspects now detained in the capital.
Peshdary was also arrested in 2010 as part of Project Samossa, an investigation into an Ottawa group whose leader had trained in Afghanistan.
While two of the group’s members were recently convicted and sentenced on terrorism charges, Peshdary was held only briefly before being released. Ottawa police then charged him with assaulting and threatening to kill his wife, but he was subsequently acquitted of those charges.
Since then, he has been active at Algonquin College.
He had posted an image on his Facebook page (now taken down) showing an assault rifle laid across a map of Canada and the United States. Another image said not to think of those “killed in the cause of Allah” as dead.
“WAKE UP Muslims,” he wrote beside a Facebook post about a child who had frozen to death in Syria. “And what is the matter with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and for the oppressed young men, women and children.”
The Algonquin College Muslim Students’ Association page on Facebook shows Peshdary holding a microphone and posing for photos at the campus’s Islam Awareness Week last March. The association did not respond to questions Tuesday.
“Honestly,” Peshdary wrote on a Facebook page last August after one of the Project Samossa accused, Khurram Syed Sher, was acquitted. “I feel that as Muslims we are all walking on egg shells. If such a reputable person can be accused, where do the rest of us stand?
“We can’t enjoy the liberties of regular Canadian citizens,” he continued. “There are hundreds of Muslim Canadians who are on an AMERICAN no fly list without having ever committed a single crime or have been suspected by Canadian authorities.
“As we speak there are Canadian Spy agents who go around the Muslim communities trying to drag young men into terrorism charges by pretending to be friends seeking justice in foreign countries,” he wrote.
He complained that camping, paintball and hunting had been “labeled as jihad training. Brothers and sisters we should stand up and speak out against the arrogant authority who tries to exploit our community for the benefit of gaining funding from the Canadian government.”
Upset at what he considered the “targeting” of Muslims by the Algonquin College spiritual centre, he wrote on Facebook that Muslim students’ posters had been taken down, the imam had been “kicked out” and evening and night prayers were not being permitted.
A month later, he posted a photo of two scale models of passenger aircraft, one a WestJet plane, the other Air Canada. “Found some toys on my friend’s bed … looks suspicious,” he wrote. “Trying to get caught by CSIS bro … lol,” read one of the comments.
According to court documents, Peshdary and his friend, Heva Alizadeh, were the subjects of an investigation by CSIS six years ago. A CSIS affidavit dated Oct. 15, 2009, said that a confidential source had said, “Peshdary was actively looking for sources on the street that could sell him a gun. Peshdary was still working with the intention of travelling overseas for jihad and was accumulating money in order to follow through with his plans.”
But court records indicate that CSIS had already spoken with Peshdary about the issue in May 2009 and investigators were “confident that he is no longer looking to purchase a gun” and the “matter will no longer be pursued.”
The court documents also say that another subject of the Project Samossa investigation, Misbahuddin Ahmed, “had been warned by his friend Awso Peshdary not to associate with Mr. Alizadeh because Mr. Alizadeh was an extremist, but he nonetheless persisted in fostering a close relationship with Mr. Alizadeh.”
Alizadeh, an Iranian who said he had been sent back to Canada by Al Qaeda to “hit from within,” is serving a 24-year sentence. Following his arrest, police seized detonators that had been custom built by a bomb expert at a terrorist training camp, and instructions on how to make remote control bombs.
Ahmed was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison.