Toronto man who has been de-radicalizing Canadian terrorists is being deported
Jason Pippin was an idealistic 18-year-old when he went to a conference in Dearborn, Michigan and heard a speech about how the Indian army was treating Muslims in the disputed Kashmir region.
Believing it was his religious duty to help, the Muslim convert made his way to a camp in Pakistan run by Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT), an armed Islamist group that staged cross-border attacks against Indian forces.
Since then, the Toronto resident has disavowed extremism. He testified as a prosecution witness at a terrorism trial and has helped de-radicalize two former members of the terror group that plotted to bomb downtown Toronto.
But his militant youth has now come back to haunt him: he was recently ordered deported from Canada to the United States on the grounds he was a former LeT member and had engaged in subversion by force of the Indian government.
“In 1996, at the age of 18, Mr. Pippin went to Pakistan to engage in jihad,” the Immigration and Refugee Board wrote in its ruling. “He wanted to protect Muslims who were being victimized by Indian authorities. This idealistic goal, however, required him to potentially kill Indian soldiers.”
The case, which has gone unreported until now, touches on an issue likely to become more widespread as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continues to suffer losses: what to do with ex-foreign fighters.
Officials have said there are already about 60 “returnees” in Canada. Among them are former ISIL members in Alberta and Ontario. Returning extremists mean “the presence of trained and connected terrorist actors within Canada,” according to a Green Paper released by the government as part of its public consultations on national security.
Experience has shown that some returnees become mentors, recruiters and facilitators for terrorist groups, and some plan attacks. Those who come back disillusioned, however, can be valuable allies in the fight against radicalization.
They can denounce violent extremism with first-person credibility that police, governments, academics and even religious leaders lack. Having navigated their way out of the extremist mind trap, they can guide others out as well.
“After talking to him, it became crystal-clear that education and maturity eradicate the extremist ideology in one’s mind,” Saad Gaya, a convicted member of the Toronto 18 terrorist group, wrote in a letter of support for Pippin.
Prof. John Horgan, an expert on leaving violent extremism, said disengaging and de-radicalizing others “isn’t a ticket for amnesty.” It “might go some way towards mitigating an otherwise potentially severe sentence, but there’s no doubt that any such offender has to be held to account for whatever he’s done,” the Georgia State University professor said.
A U.S. citizen married to a Canadian, Pippin is not facing ant criminal charges but immigration authorities brought a case against him to the IRB alleging he was inadmissible to Canada because of his past militancy.
During two days of hearings held in Toronto in February, the 39-year-old spoke at length about his transformation from a trained jihadist who thought the 9/11 attacks were justified to a de-radicalization advocate.
After converting at age 14, Pippin said he became enamored with the idea of fighting in Bosnia. He said the “Islamic legal arguments” he was taught portrayed it as an obligation because Muslims there were being oppressed.
He missed his chance when the Bosnian conflict ended in 1995 but after meeting a conference speaker who invited him to Pakistan, he made his way from his Atlanta home to the compound of Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad. The hardline Islamic preaching group, based near Lahore, sent him by bus to a camp run by its armed wing, the LeT.
Days at the camp were a mix of indoctrination, military training and intestinal illness, he said. Eventually he was sent to the Indian border but nothing was happening and winter was coming so after three months he decided to go home.
He soon began raising money for a return journey with two friends. They arrived in April 1997 and Pippin was sent to the town of Kotli but once again he become frustrated. He realized that, because of the language barrier and the LeT’s suspicion of foreigners, he would never be allowed to fight in India.
He left Pakistan in August and traveled instead to Yemen to study Arabic, theology and literature, he testified. He returned to the U.S. in the summer of 1999 and became even more radicalized following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, buying into the argument they were justified and the victims were “collateral damage.” He also began to view Arab rulers as “apostates” who were not “legitimate Muslims” because they governed according to manmade laws.
In 2003, while living in California, Pippin was approached by an American extremist. Ahmad Abousamra wanted to know where he could go for training in Yemen. Pippin gave him names of people who might be able to help, unaware that Abousamra’s objective was to fight U.S. forces in Iraq.
But Pippin soon underwent what he called a spiritual crisis. “I saw that the understandings that I had were untenable, that they were leading to nothing good. So I reviewed these understandings… And I came to a more traditional spiritualist understanding of the Islamic tradition.”
Beginning in 2006, his new calling became translating religious books into English that he said addressed “misunderstandings that lead to these extremist understandings and interpretations of Islam.” Among those works he translated was a 500-page religious edict against ISIL.
Pippin arrived in Toronto in 2009 and became active in de-radicalization counseling scene. He made repeated visits to Millhaven prison in Bath, Ont. to visit Gaya and Saad Khalid, also a convicted Toronto 18 member.
They spoke about how they had justified their terrorism and “we went back and forth and showed that these understandings were wrong from the Islamic tradition itself, and convinced them that this is a betrayal of the true Islamic tradition,” he said.
In his letter, Gaya said he was initially skeptical that Pippin could help him but their first meeting won him over. “He immediately had credibility in my eyes because he understood the language of my queries,” said Gaya. “The extremist narrative can only be truly countered by such articulate, intelligent and meaningful refutations.”
When the U.S. indicted Abousamra and his associate Tarek Mehanna, Pippin traveled to Boston to testify as a witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Mehanna was convicted but Abousamra is still on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list, which says he may be in Aleppo, Syria.
“I think in general we should be accepting of former extremists who have shown a record of disengagement and who are willing to talk to youth who today may be thinking about following similarly violent paths,” said Canadian terrorism expert Amarnath Amarasingam.
Original article courtesy of National Post