A former Quebec university student on trial for terrorism in Senegal said a money transfer allegedly intended to get him to Syria was in fact meant for him to return to school in Canada, a court in the Senegalese capital of Dakar heard Thursday.
The criminal trial is the first opportunity that Assane Kamara has had to plead his innocence since he was arrested in January 2016. He was taken into custody at the airport after trying to travel to Tunisia.
Among the discoveries made by police were receipts from Western Union for money transfers worth the equivalent of more than $1,500, according to a report from the trial. One of the friends named by Senegalese officials as having sent Kamara money, Harris Catic, told the Star in 2016 that he sent a simple present through the mail at Ramadan to thank Kamara for having taught him Arabic and verses from the Qur’an.
It was Kamara’s mother who brought his case to light. Concerned that he had cut himself off from family members while in Canada, she sought out her son and found him leading prayers at Edmonton’s Sahaba mosque. She later forced him to return to Senegal.
She told investigators her son had become radicalized while studying economics at Université de Sherbrooke in eastern Quebec, as well as later while living in Edmonton with three friends from Quebec. The trio — Samir Halilovic, Youssef Sakhir and Zakria Habibi — fled Canada in the following months to join Daesh, also known as the Islamic State.
At his trial Thursday, Kamara admitted his friendship with the three men, but said he was different.
“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 covering the trial. “My mother’s worries were not justified.”
The trial did not hear any evidence of Kamara’s Facebook exchange with Halilovic from July 2014 in which he tried to arrange a “prison break” to travel from Senegal to Turkey to meet his friends shortly before they crossed into Syria and joined Daesh.