TORONTO — A 22-year-old Ontario man is facing terrorism-related offenses after returning from Turkey.
Ikar Mao of Guelph, Ont. turned himself in to RCMP officers on Friday morning. He was arrested and charged for participating in activities of a terrorist group and for leaving Canada to participate in such activities.
It appears from a LinkedIn profile that Mao worked in marketing producing video content.
The RCMP began investigating Mao in July when he and his wife were detained by authorities near the Turkish border with Syria.
According to Turkish media reports “Mao had received encrypted Daesh, also known as ISIS, videos on his phone” and the couple “left behind a letter telling their families they had gone to join Daesh.”
Mao reportedly told a Turkish court the letter was “misinterpreted” and that he and his wife “wanted to live in a Muslim country and the videos were downloaded “inadvertently.”
The RCMP told CTV News that Mao had previously been in custody in Turkey, but no conviction was registered.
Mao, dressed in khakis, a brown sweater, a winter coat and wire-framed glasses, made a brief court appearance Friday in Brampton, a city northwest of Toronto. He did not show any emotion while in the prisoner’s box. His family members and defence lawyer declined to speak to CTV outside court.
“I want to reassure the citizens of the Greater Toronto Area and all Canadians, that our primary focus is the safety and protection of the public at all times,” Chief Superintendent Michael LeSage said in a news release issued Friday.
“He was held in custody until the matter was heard before the Turkish courts,” Const. Louise Savard said in a statement. “No conviction was registered.”
Savard told The Canadian Press that Mao returned to Canada on Oct. 19, but she did not offer details about his activities since then.
She said the RCMP’s investigation into the case remains active, but declined to say whether more arrests or charges are anticipated.
The RCMP would not comment on whether Mao’s wife could also face charges.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, when asked outside Parliament, said he would not comment on a case that is currently before the court.
“I am aware that the matter is being investigated thoroughly and independently by the RCMP,” he told The Canadian Press.
The Mounties announced the arrest in a press release Friday morning.
A court-ordered publication ban is in place blocking the reporting of court proceedings and evidence brought forward.Mao had previous court-imposed restrictions in Canada, but because of the ban media cannot report what they were.
Phil Gurski, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service strategic analyst, said the case was significant because “charges were actually laid.”
“It’s really hard to do that in these cases because we don’t have the evidence we can gather in a warzone like Syria,” Gurski told CTV News Channel. “The RCMP will reach out to its partners, like CSIS, and its international partners to make the case as robust as possible.
“At the end of the day when the Crown lays charges in a terrorism case they want a conviction. There is a good case law there, what remains to be seen is can the courts gain convictions and on that front we’re not doing that great.”
Mao was remanded in custody and is due back in court on Wednesday morning for a bail hearing.