Omar Khadr makes first public appearance in a decade, arguing for move to provincial jail

Steve Mertl
Omar Khadr makes first public appearance in a decade, arguing for move to provincial jail

Canada's most notorious jihadist made his first appearance in public in more than a decade Monday.

Omar Khadr, who spent 10 years in Guantanamo Bay military prison before being transferred to Canadian custody a year ago, went to court in Edmonton as his lawyer applied to have his detention in a federal maximum-security prison declared illegal.

Khadr, who was wounded and captured in Afghanistan at age 15 and now is 27, turned up in a white polo shirt and a full beard. He smiled as he was escorted into court, The Canadian Press reported.

Lawyer Dennis Edney argued that since Khadr was only 15 when he was captured in a firefight with American soldiers and accused of killing one with a grenade, he should be held in a provincial jail, CBC News reported.

[ Related: Omar Khadr returned to Canada, but future uncertain ]

Khadr was born in Toronto and went to Afghanistan with his father, Ahmed, a senior member of Al Qaeda, and his brothers who also became fighters. Though supporters insisted he was a child soldier, Omar received an eight-year-sentence after pleading guilty to the killing and other war crimes in a 2010 plea agreement with the U.S. military commission handling the case.

Had the crime occurred in Canada, Edney contended, his sentence would have come under the Young Offenders Act and he would not have served time in an adult federal prison.

The federal government argues Khadr, who was eligible to apply for full parole last July, remains a dangerous terrorist and belongs in a maximum-security prison, CP said.

CBC News reported Prime Minister Stephen Harper said earlier Monday that Khadr was convicted of serious crimes, including murder.

"It is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts in court to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts," he said.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney also defended Khadr's treatment in a statement Sunday.

"Khadr pleaded guilty to heinous crimes," Blaney said, according to CP. "The government of Canada will vigorously defend against any attempted court action to see him allowed onto Canadian streets sooner."

Edney said that although Khadr was not expected to speak at his court appearance, the lawyer wanted people to see his client, who's known to most Canadians only via outdated photos and grainy videos of his interrogation at Guantanamo.

[ Related: Omar Khadr not a high-level threat, ombudsman argues ]

Khadr was transferred to Canada in September 2012 and first held in isolation at the maximum-security Millhaven Institution, west of Kingston, Ont., before being shifted to Edmonton Institution in May, CP said.

Khadr became eligible for day parole last June, having served one third of his sentence, according to the Toronto Sun. It's not clear if he applied for that, but he did not apply for full parole when he became eligible in July while his lawyers argued for his transfer out of maximum-security custody.

In an interview with Maclean's, Edney said he was so confident Khadr is not a threat that he agreed to let him live with his family after he is released.

“We will have him go to university, we will try to help him to readjust as a non-notorious individual known to the public, and let him get on with his life,” Edney told Maclean's. “That is what he wants. He doesn’t want publicity. He just wants to disappear and get on with his life.”