Former Quebec exchange student acquitted of terror charges in Senegal

MONTREAL—A Senegalese man charged with terror offences that stemmed from his time studying in Canada was acquitted Monday in a court in the country’s capital, Dakar.

Assane Kamara was found not guilty of three terrorism charges more than two years after he was denounced by his worried mother and arrested by police. Prosecutors had been seeking a five-year criminal sentence.

During the trial, Kamara’s lawyers argued that he was a devout young Muslim but refuted claims that he had any intention of joining Daesh, the terror group also known as the Islamic State or ISIS. One of Kamara’s brothers and his fiancée testified in his defence at the trial.

“Assane is young, smart, calm and full of faith. He will continue his studies, strengthen his faith and demonstrate that he never thought of becoming a terrorist,” said Kamara’s lawyer, Ousmane Seye, in an email to the Star.

“He has assured me that he will conduct himself every day in a way that disproves those who accused him of being a terrorist.”

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The Star reported in 2016 that Kamara was part of a group of young Muslims at Université de Sherbrooke who adopted a more strident version of their religion. At least three members of that group, Samir Halilovic, Youssef Fix and Zakria Habib, fled Canada for Syria in July 2014.

In 2014, Kamara moved to Edmonton with the three others and cut contact with his family. The change in behaviour so worried his family that his mother travelled to Canada to Dakar and forced her son to return home when she found him leading prayers at Edmonton’s Sahaba Mosque.

The Star obtained a transcript of Facebook messages sent in 2014 between Kamara, who was in Dakar, and Halilovic, who was in Paris. In the exchange, the two men discuss whether it is possible for Kamara to travel from Dakar to Istanbul. They speak in code about starting an “internship.”

But Halilovic wrote that he was scheduled to meet Habibi and another friend—“Yakky”—in the Turkish capital on July 14, 2014. Kamara wrote that he was waiting for money from a Canadian source to fund his travel.

Kamara was alleged by Senegalese prosecutors to have accepted suspicious transfers of money from Canada.

During a brief trial last month, the court heard that police had recovered receipts from Western Union showing that Kamara had received the equivalent of more than $ 1,500. Kamara testified that he intended to use this money to help him return to Canada to complete his university education—not to travel to Syria like his friends from Sherbrooke.

“I did not aspire to violent jihad like them. Jihad is an Islamic principle that allows you to make efforts to improve the practice of your Muslim faith,” he said, according to a Senegalese news website that covered the trial. “My mother’s worries were not justified.”

TORONTO STAR

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