Jason Pippin was an idealistic 18-year-old when he went to a conference in Dearborn, Michigan and heard a speech about how the Indian army was treating Muslims in the disputed Kashmir region.
Believing it was his religious duty to help, the Muslim convert made his way to a camp in Pakistan run by Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT), an armed Islamist group that staged cross-border attacks against Indian forces.
Since then, the Toronto resident has disavowed extremism. He testified as a prosecution witness at a terrorism trial and has helped de-radicalize two former members of the terror group that plotted to bomb downtown Toronto.
But his militant youth has now come back to haunt him: he was recently ordered deported from Canada to the United States on the grounds he was a former LeT member and had engaged in subversion by force of the Indian government.
“In 1996, at the age of 18, Mr. Pippin went to Pakistan to engage in jihad,” the Immigration and Refugee Board wrote in its ruling. “He wanted to protect Muslims who were being victimized by Indian authorities. This idealistic goal, however, required him to potentially kill Indian soldiers.”
The case, which has gone unreported until now, touches on an issue likely to become more widespread as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continues to suffer losses: what to do with ex-foreign fighters.
A U.S. citizen married to a Canadian, Pippin is not facing ant criminal charges but immigration authorities brought a case against him to the IRB alleging he was inadmissible to Canada because of his past militancy.
During two days of hearings held in Toronto in February, the 39-year-old spoke at length about his transformation from a trained jihadist who thought the 9/11 attacks were justified to a de-radicalization advocate.
After converting at age 14, Pippin said he became enamored with the idea of fighting in Bosnia. He said the “Islamic legal arguments” he was taught portrayed it as an obligation because Muslims there were being oppressed.
He missed his chance when the Bosnian conflict ended in 1995 but after meeting a conference speaker who invited him to Pakistan, he made his way from his Atlanta home to the compound of Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad. The hardline Islamic preaching group, based near Lahore, sent him by bus to a camp run by its armed wing, the LeT.
Days at the camp were a mix of indoctrination, military training and intestinal illness, he said. Eventually he was sent to the Indian border but nothing was happening and winter was coming so after three months he decided to go home.
He soon began raising money for a return journey with two friends. They arrived in April 1997 and Pippin was sent to the town of Kotli but once again he become frustrated. He realized that, because of the language barrier and the LeT’s suspicion of foreigners, he would never be allowed to fight in India.
He left Pakistan in August and traveled instead to Yemen to study Arabic, theology and literature, he testified. He returned to the U.S. in the summer of 1999 and became even more radicalized following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, buying into the argument they were justified and the victims were “collateral damage.” He also began to view Arab rulers as “apostates” who were not “legitimate Muslims” because they governed according to manmade laws.
In 2003, while living in California, Pippin was approached by an American extremist. Ahmad Abousamra wanted to know where he could go for training in Yemen. Pippin gave him names of people who might be able to help, unaware that Abousamra’s objective was to fight U.S. forces in Iraq.
Although he denied ever being a member of the LeT, which in 2008 conducted the deadly Mumbai terrorist attack, the IRB ruled he was “fully committed to the group” and was willing to risk his life fighting Indian forces. “The fact that he made two trips to Pakistan further underscores his high level of commitment to the LeT.”
The CBSA has not yet removed him to the United States and he remains in Toronto.
Which Islamic group was holding a conference in Dearborn in 1996?