Accused extremist recruiter Awso Peshdary pleads guilty to terrorism-related charges

OTTAWA — An accused recruiter for the Islamic State military group has renounced his previous extremism and pleaded guilty to terrorism offences in an Ottawa courtroom.

Awso Peshdary was sentenced to 14 years, but is being credited with time served. He is expected to serve 21 months in jail followed by three years of probation with conditions.

Justice Julianne Parfett said she had "no difficulty" finding him guilty on each of the indictments, and that some of the evidence heard during the nearly five-year court case was "horrific."

Peshdary, 33, was arrested on terrorism-related charges in February 2015, based on allegations he recruited and financed homegrown terrorists before helping them travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. His criminal trial in the Ontario Superior Court resumed after his lawyers filed a motion saying he was prepared to change his plea to guilty, and agreed with prosecutors to request a sentence of 14 years.

Peshdary, who has been in jail since his arrest, entered court Thursday afternoon with his feet shackled, wearing a black suit with a white shirt.

In a brief statement, he took responsibility for his actions.

"I understand that the full scope of my involvement in extremism has had a plethora of negative impacts, the smallest of which is that it undermined the fabric of safety, built by the general population," he said.

"I know that I have betrayed my family's expectation of me to become a positive, contributing member of society."

Peshdary said he had failed the Muslim community and it was "God's favour" that the RCMP arrested him before he continued farther down the path he was on.

He also said he denounced his previously held extremist beliefs.

"I do this with the confidence that only a person who has walked out of that path can understand," he said. "I'm extremely thankful to have the opportunity to continue my life and I hope my experience can be a learning lesson for those who have had similar ideologies."

His lawyer, Solomon Friedman, said Peshdary completed programs and underwent counselling while in custody. Friedman also submitted a forensic psychiatrist's assessment detailing his rehabilitation to the court.

He said Peshdary had been groomed and misled into extreme ideologies at a young age.

"I don't think anybody would want to be defined by their ideology that they began when they were 16 years old," he said.

Crown lawyer Roderick Sonley said he felt the sentence was appropriate given the activity Peshdary was involved in.

"We're not necessarily convinced that he's been rehabilitated, because he was successful in doing what he (did) because he's a very persuasive and educated individual," he said.

Sonley read to court a victim impact statement written by Patricia Earle, the mother of John Maguire, who travelled to Syria in 2012 to become an Islamic militant with the help of Peshdary.

Maguire is now presumed dead.

"I understand that John played a large part in his demise, but I can't help but wonder if we would have seen the same result if Awso Peshdary hadn't influenced him the way that he did," Earle's statement read.

The court is recommending Peshdary serve the remainder of his time behind bars at a treatment centre, where he can continue to take part in programming and seek treatment.

Peshdary's case had been stalled pending a Federal Court decision that had dragged on while his lawyers, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service debated what evidence could be used in the proceedings.

But Peshdary, who was 25 at the time of his arrest, is now dropping that case.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.

David Fraser, The Canadian Press