Canada has failed to protect one of its citizens – a minor with mental health issues – and is responsible to bring Abdulrahman back home.
Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy is a Canadian citizen from Mississauga, Ontario, who is currently serving an unfair, cruel, and controversial sentence of 40 years in a United States prison for charges of conspiring and providing material to commit terrorism. How did a 17-year-old Canadian minor, with a long history of mental health illnesses, primarily bipolar disorder, end up plotting to bomb a target in New York?
Abdulrahman is a funny, friendly, down to earth, and loving person who was raised in a very humble and modest family. He is a smart student who did well in school, particularly in mathematics, aspiring to become an engineer or a computer programmer. However, from a young age, he suffered from mental health and substance abuse problems.
His aspiring dreams in life were turned into a nightmare by the FBI and RCMP. Despite having no criminal and violent history, he was lured by FBI undercover agents into participating in the planning and conspiring of a terrorist attack in New York. Both agencies knew about his mental illness, however, it was exactly this fact that made him an easy target for entrapment.
Abdulrahman’s mental health illnesses include a severe tendency to fixate on a subject, medically referred to as ‘looping’, as confirmed by physicians who testified in his trial. As part of a school project on Islamic history and the caliphate, days and nights of research led Abdulrahman into online chat groups where he was immersed in an environment of extremists. Due to his ‘looping’ and bipolar disorder, Abdulrahman is easily susceptible to talk about any subject. Unaware he was being targeted by undercover FBI agents posing as ISIS recruiters, they engaged Abdulrahman in radical discussions such as the mistreatment of Muslims by the United States. The conversations elevated to identifying suitable targets to bomb. The agents then identified bomb-making materials that could be easily purchased over the counter. Following further instructions, Abdulrahman then shipped hydrogen peroxide via online to an address in New York. The point was not to build a bomb but to show intent and conspiracy to build one which Abdulrahman had no knowledge whatsoever. This approach of instructing and directing vulnerable individuals/groups is a well documented practice of the FBI.
His parents who were worried about their son’s deteriorating condition and isolation – and unaware of Abdulrahman’s online interaction with ISIS and undercover law enforcement – had to pay out of their own pockets to see a psychologist since they were put on a waiting list by CAMH. During Abdulrahman’s engagement in the online chats, he was not taking his medication due to its side effects such as weight gain and tiredness which got him to be bullied. Abdulrahman was on a waiting list for a mental health program and thus the computer was his only joy to pass time as he was out of school. They managed to get an appointment months later in May and proposed to go on a road trip to New York before Abdulrahman’s meeting with the Canadian psychologist. Unfortunately, the FBI arrested Abdulrahman upon arrival in New Jersey, strategically timed so that he would be 18 years old and therefore be an adult in court.
Since his arrest, Abdulrahman has faced several due process and human rights violations. His case was sealed to allow absolute control over Abdulrahman without any outside interference. His detention was harsh with abusive conditions including prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on communicating with his family and legal counsel, possibly impeding his ability to assist in his defense and contributing to his decision to plead guilty. He has not received the proper medical and mental health treatment he requires. He was denied the choice of his legal representation, and his age and mental health illness were not considered for mitigating factors in his sentencing. For these reasons, his legal counsel has appealed the court’s decision.
Abdulrahman’s case is on the public record of a Canadian being entrapped by the FBI, with support of the RCMP. According to Human Rights Watch, after 9/11, both the United States Justice Department and the FBI have targeted American Muslims in counterterrorism “sting operations”. In reality, legal sting operations regularly cross into entrapment. Abdulrahman’s case is one of the several cases of entrapment of foreign nationals instead of American “homegrown” terrorists.
As it relates to Canada’s involvement, the RCMP’s knowledge of Abdulrahman’s age, mental health, and its collaboration with the FBI is problematic. The RCMP had the opportunity to stop Abdulrahman from going to New York where he would eventually be arrested, charged and sentenced to 40 years in prison. In a similar case in Canada, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were acquitted in 2018, due to entrapment by the RCMP, a year after being found guilty by a jury for their role in the British Columbia (BC) legislature bomb plot. Justice Catherine Bruce, the BC Supreme Court Judge with the decision, stated a powerful message in her concluding remarks that touches upon Abdulrahman’s case: “Simply put, the world has enough terrorists. We do not need the police to create more out of marginalized people who have neither the capacity nor sufficient motivation to do it themselves.” The RCMP’s involvement in Abdulrahman’s entrapment is currently under review by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA).
For Abdulrahman, the lack of treatment and rehabilitation offered in the United States is a serious concern for his well-being and his chance at reintegration into society. The International Transfer of Offenders Act (ITOA) in the Statutes of Canada, allows Canada to bring Abdulrahman home to serve his sentence in a Canadian prison. This would also enable his family – who have committed greatly to help him – easier access to visit and support him. A request was made by his legal counsel during his trial to have him transferred to a Canadian prison. The prosecution and judge expressed they had no reservations about such a request if it was made by the Canadian government.
Abdulrahman does not belong in a US prison. At the very least, he deserves to serve his time in his home country where his family can easily visit and support him while receiving the appropriate treatment not offered by the United States. Abdulrahman needs to be supported by his loving and caring family, not a prison with harsh living conditions. Canada has failed to protect one of its citizens – a minor with mental health issues – and is responsible to bring Abdulrahman back home.
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"What makes this story even more disturbing is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) knowingly participated in this sting with the FBI. They unlawfully obtained Abdulrahman’s medical records that described his mental health vulnerabilities and provided them to the FBI to better manipulate this damaged youth.
This raises serious human rights concerns of discriminatory investigations, targeting vulnerable youths such as Abdulrahman, who had no previous history of violence or criminality, until drawn in by a U.S. government actively involved in developing the plot, persuading and pressuring the target to participate."