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'Extremely serious': Calgary man involved in terrorism activity sentenced to 12 years

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Hussein Borhot is seen in a courtroom sketch in Calgary on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Borhot, who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related acts with the militant group Islamic State, is to be sentenced today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mary Haasdyk

CALGARY — A man who admitted to terrorism-related acts with the militant group Islamic State, saying he didn't know any better,has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Hussein Borhot, 36, appeared Thursday before Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Labrenz for a sentencing hearing in Calgary.

"Quite clearly, you intended to assist or facilitate the activities of a terrorist group. You carried that plan into action," Labrenz told Borhot as the judge accepted a joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and the defence.

"This was an extremely serious and grave crime."

Borhot pleaded guilty in April to one count of participating in terrorism group activity between May 9, 2013, and June 7, 2014, as well as to kidnapping for a terrorist group while in Syria.

The joint submission recommended eight years on the first count and another four years for the kidnapping.

Labrenz also imposed a lifetime firearms ban and ordered Borhot's DNA be submitted to a national database.

RCMP arrested Borhot in July 2020 after a seven-year investigation.

An agreed statement of facts read in court in April says he travelled to Syria through Turkey to join the Islamic State. 

The statement says he signed up as a fighter, received substantial training and excelled as a sniper, but did not tell his wife or father before the trip. 

Court heard that Borhot revealed much of the information to an undercover officer after he returned to Canada.

The statement says Borhot told the officer that he and some other Islamic State fighters travelled to a village, where they kidnapped a number of opposing fighters. He said he had sworn an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State.

When asked by Labrenz last month whether the facts were correct, Borhot said they were, but added: "I didn't know any better."

He declined further comment Thursday.

Before the judge's decision, Crown prosecutor Kent Brown said it was important to keep in mind that Borhot participated in acts of terrorism.

"Once he decided to join up with ISIS, virtually all his activities were terrorist activities," he told Labrenz.

"His decision to enter Syria illegally by crossing the border from Turkey in the middle of the night to join up with ISIS to accept training and to engage in fighting on ISIS's behalf are all activities meant to advance the cause of that terrorist group."

Borhot's lawyer, Rame Katrib, said he and his client agreed to the sentence after lengthy discussions with the Crown.

"Mr. Borhot has tendered a plea of guilty, when there were a lot of issues that could have been litigated, but he has taken responsibility," Katrib said.

Twelve years in prison isn't a lenient sentence, the defence lawyer said.

"He's been back in Canada since these offences occurred," he said. "He's been here many years and in that time period he has built a family, he's worked, he's led a quiet life."

Borhot, he noted, was free on bail with strict conditions that included wearing an ankle-tracking device, complying with all laws and checking in regularly with authorities.

"When he goes to jail, he is leaving behind a family. He has four children."

Katrib said the prison term not only takes into account a fit sentence but the possibility of rehabilitation.

"Mr. Borhot left the organization of his own volition and returned to Canada," he said.

"The entirety of the family was never supportive of this type of thing and even now are very ashamed of what's happened, as is Mr. Borhot."

Borhot's cousin, Jamal Borhot, is also accused of joining the Islamic State and faces three counts of participating in terrorist group activity. His trial is scheduled for October 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 26, 2022.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press