Kevin Omar Mohamed, the 23-year-old Ontario man arrested for what police say is fear he might commit a terrorist act, attracted a small following on Twitter after he began translating the writings of an influential cleric in Syria from Arabic to English, according to an academic who had a relationship with him on social media.
Amarnath Amarasingam, who teaches at Halifax's Dalhousie University and the University of Waterloo, says Mr. Mohamed's public social-media writings did not appear threatening. Mr. Mohamed used the name "Abu Jayyid," said Mr. Amarasingam, who discovered his real name through a mutual acquaintance.
"If I just take what is out there and what he's been … saying for the last two years … I don't see him as an extremist or someone who is going to attack someone in Canada," he said in an interview, noting he is not familiar with the police investigation.
Mr. Mohamed is being held in custody under the little-used "Fear of Terrorism" provision in the Criminal Code that allows police to arrest someone – with consent of the attorney-general – on grounds they may commit a terrorist offence.
The only charges that were laid against him, however, were for carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a weapon dangerous to public peace. His lawyer, Anser Farooq, said the weapon the police allege is illegal was a knife.
But, he said Saturday, he didn't know what provoked the police investigation. Mr. Farooq said that they want his client to sign a peace bond, which is a court order to abide by certain conditions.
Mr. Mohamed is to appear in a Brampton court on Tuesday.
In a statement Saturday, the RCMP said its Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) in Toronto arrested Mr. Mohamed as part of "an extensive national security criminal investigation named Project SWAP."
"This arrest speaks to our ability to tackle a threat that is multifaceted and constantly evolving. While there was no indication of any plans for a domestic attack, we must remain committed to preventing individuals from travelling abroad to gain training and expertise that could be used in the planning and implementation of future attacks on Canadian soil," said Superintendent Lise Crouch, assistant criminal operations officer in Ontario.
The statement said, too, that the arrest was not linked to the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels.
Mr. Mohamed's brother, David, who was contacted by The Globe and Mail, said the arrest has "come as a shock."
"I have no idea why this is happening," he said.
A friend of Mr. Mohamed's said the two knew each other at the University of Waterloo, where Mr. Mohamed was studying engineering. The friend, a recent graduate of the university, who asked not to be named,
said that people who knew him are "shocked at the allegations." The Syrian conflict, he said, seemed to change Mr. Mohamed, noting he would talk about what he saw on television, and about the pictures of all the children who were killed.
Last week, the friend said, Mr. Mohamed's mother got in touch with him, asking if he knew if her son was okay, as she had not heard from him for a week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Amarasingam said Mr. Mohamed came to his attention as part of a study he is conducting at the University of Waterloo of Westerners who go to Syria to fight.
They began to talk through Twitter. The last time they exchanged messages was in February.
"He's very supportive of the rebels and the Syrian wing of al Qaeda … and has spent a lot of time translating Sheik [Abdullah] al-Muhaysini from Arabic to English for his audience," said Mr. Amarasingam, referring to the influential cleric, who is linked to the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.
Although Mr. Amarasingam has no idea what the RCMP uncovered in its investigation, he said, Mr. Mohamed was "deeply into … the theological debate about what is the duty of an everyday Muslim when you have injustices like Syria happening."
"He was very involved in that conversation," said Mr. Amarasingam. "If you're not used to that conversation it can get very suspicious sounding."
However, a March 24th tweet from "Abu Jayyid" – "Where can I get the Brussels airport MOD on Call of Duty?" – was "probably not helpful," said Mr. Amarasingam.
With a file from The Canadian Press