LONDON — On the same day we learned that Canada is going to make a multi-millionaire out of undisputed bomb-maker and disputed — if self-admitted (lies, all lies) — U.S. soldier-killer Omar Khadr, a London judge sentenced a teenage wannabe terrorist to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 16-and-a-half years.
No connection? Well, there is actually, if only because Khadr has convinced enough judicial and government authorities that he was 1) a child soldier protected by international covenants, left to twist in the Guantanamo wind by Ottawa, under both Liberal and Conservative regimes; and 2) that he was tortured whilst detained. Thus the Toronto native will be compensated large.
Advocacy goes a long way in influencing public opinion, which in turn influences government response. And Khadr was the beneficiary of lawyers, human rights activists and journalists who successfully portrayed the young man as a victim of circumstances — most especially growing up in a radical jihadist family closely connected to Osama bin Laden — and, you know, not really so bad.
Oh sure, an American serviceman was killed and another blinded in one eye during the chaotic 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. But maybe 15-year-old Khadr threw the grenade that caused the casualties and maybe he didn’t. He’s said both in the past. And now he says he can’t remember.
In any event, Khadr has served his prison time, before being transferred back to Canada upon pleading guilty to murder, and has spent more time in jail than a 15-year-old convicted of murder would have under Canadian law. But rewarding him for it, and so generously, seems a bit much. Although, presumably, a chunk of that compensation — at least $10 million, as reported first by the Star’s Michelle Shephard and the Globe and Mail — to settle a long-fermenting lawsuit will be parcelled off to lawyers.
By contrast, the London judge handed down the stiffest penalty possible — life, with a minimum that must be served — against 19-year-old Haroon Syed, whose plotting included targeting of an Elton John concert at Hyde Park on the anniversary last year of Sept. 11.
(Although the U.K. has also compensated nationals who were detained in Guantanamo, including the Muslim convert who received $1.25 million before lamming it to Syria and then blowing himself up in a suicide attack on a military facility in Mosul.)
Syed never actually got his hands on the nail-packed bomb he coveted, or the machine-gun, or the suicide vests. For one thing, the man he was negotiating with was in fact an undercover security officer, as was heard during trial at the Old Bailey.
Unlike Khadr, raised by his terrorism money merchant father as a useful bomb-crafter for Al Qaeda — so 15 minutes ago, Al Qaeda — Syed declared his alliance to the next generation Daesh, a.k.a. Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS, now on the verge of territorial collapse as its “caliphate” bites the dust in northern Iraq, in total retreat before advancing Iraqi and Kurdish troops.
Back when Syed was arrested, on Sept. 8 last year, the idea of an individual assailant attacking a massive rock concert might have sounded far-fetched. Now, post-Manchester, we know better. Searches of his computer, and recorded communications he had with his online arms contact “Abu Yusuf” — the undercover agent — showed, court heard, that Syed was casting about for “packed places in London” worthy of his anniversary assault, including Oxford St. and Buckingham Palace, military barracks and the Old Bailey, where his fate was determined on Monday.
Syed had contacted “Abu Yusuf” via an encrypted messaging app — social media now so vital a factor in terrorism recruitment — in his search for weapons and attack-stuff, which he hoped to pay for by taking out bank loans. “So if it’s machine guns it will cost a lot,” he told “Abu Yusuf” at one point. “Two things. Number one machine gun and we need someone who can make a vest you know the dug (button) one. So after some damage with the machine gun then do itishadi (martyrdom), that’s what I’m planning to do.”
Except his loan applications were denied and, ultimately, Syed could only come up with about $300 for a homemade nail bomb — “those sharp things lots of them inside.” And: “Good man, can’t wait . . . After is all done and that, yeah it blows up everything, after whatever innit. If I go to prison, I go to prison. If I die, I die, you understand. I have to get to Jannah (paradise).”
In fact, wasn’t actually so keen on martyrdom, as Syed continually pressed “Abu Yusuf” to source him a bomb “with a button,” so he could detonate it remotely, or — his other bright idea — a portable explosive he could set off on a train just before jumping out for his life.
Unlike, say, Khadr, Syed didn’t know how to make his own explosives, though instructions can easily enough be found online.
The defence, pursuing the usual exculpation, argued that Syed was vulnerable to radicalization because of a turbulent family background, lack of education — though he was an IT college student — ignorance about Islam and addiction to violent online games, his bombing plans a “fantasy” indistinguishable from the games he played on his computer.
The judge didn’t buy any of it.
“Overall you were, and you remained intent upon and committed to, carrying out an act of mass murder in this country.
“You were not lured, you were not enticed, you were not entrapped.
“You became, and in my judgment as shown by your online activities away from your contact with Abu Yusuf, deeply committed to the ideology of a brutal and barbaric organization that sought to hijack and corrupt an ancient and venerable religion for its own purposes and you wanted to be part of it.”
But there was also another radicalization pivot, perhaps the most crucial contributor to Syed’s transformation from non-religious layabout teenager to passionate ISIS adherent. A year ago, his older brother Nadir was sentenced to serve at least 15 years of a life sentence after he was convicted of planning to behead a poppy-seller or community support police officer on Remembrance Sunday — similar to the beheading of British army soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 — and had purchased a large knife for the purpose before his arrest in November 2014.
At that time, police seized Syed’s passport because they feared he might attempt to join jihadists in Syria. Yet he was never red-flagged to Prevent, the government’s anti-radicalization program for intervention.
When police arrested Syed, raiding his home in west London, they found his mobile phone on the top bunk in his bedroom. They asked for the password.
Syed: “Yeah, ISIS. You like that?”
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.