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Remorse and redemption from pen of jailed terrorist

I may never be released, read a letter Zakaria Amara wrote to me from Canada this week.

Nonetheless I must work day and night to earn my redemption and free my soul from the guilt of the past.” I breathed in. Was this about redemption — as in “I know that my Redeemer liveth” — or remorse? They are not the same thing.

Zakaria Amara was convicted in 2006 of planning “terrorist attacks” — he was one of the ringleaders, so the Toronto court was told — of a plot to hijack the Ottawa House of Commons, cut off the head of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and bomb Canadian secret service headquarters in Toronto. The police had operated a “sting” — the Canadians seem to have a lot of “moles”, ready to offer explosives to Muslims who say “yes please” and then arrange for their arrest — but there's not much doubt that Amara bought the line. He told an Ottawa court that he had learned how to make a fertiliser bomb over the internet and planned to use it on the Toronto Stock Exchange. He got life. He said he was sorry. In a letter read to the court in Brampton, Ontario, he said: “I deserve nothing less than your complete and absolute contempt.”

Zakaria Amara said he had heard of my articles but had “never bothered to read any of them until now”, but was currently reading my last book The Great War for Civilisation in which I describe an Israeli child blinded by a Palestinian bomb in Jerusalem in 2001. “Perhaps this book would have saved me from a life sentence had I read it when I was free,” he wrote to me. “Perhaps I would of (sic) avoided going down the path I chose.”

The quotation in my book which he said moved him — “shoock (sic) me to my foundations” — was when I asked why the 2001 Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem could not, “in his last moments on earth, recognise this (Israeli) child as his daughter, his baby, his youngest cousin? Alas, no. He was too far down the road to his own death, too buried in his own |people's tragedy”.

Amara wrote to me that he was “in great need of a mentor who is willing to guide my thought process and help me become well grounded in a better, more positive and productive perspective”. Well, folks, that's not me. I am too busy writing about Palestinians who are suffering right here in the Middle East — Amara, I should point out, says that he was “born in Jordan but as with most ‘Jordanians' we are actually Palestinian” — but he does say: “Muslims are constantly pointing out their innocent casualties ignoring the equally innocent casualties they cause.”

His “critical thinking faculties” were now “revived after being buried six feet below by blind following, emotions and Islamic jurisprudence technicalities and caveats invented by ‘contemporary' ‘scholars'”. But in his letter to me, Amara continues: “I wonder if I ever want to be released to such an ugly world.”

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Is this true? He complains that the Canadian penitentiary in which he is held appears to have “zero understanding of my circumstances. All they know about terrorism is what they heard on TV which makes it difficult to get help”. He says he ordered a book about the confrontation of religious extremism by the Canadian journalist Eric Margolis, that the order never went through and he was not allowed to receive it. “I am not sure if they (the Canadian authorities in charge of his prison) are realising how counterproductive the jail is being.” Amara writes to me that: “I consider myself fortunate for having been awakened and redirected...”.

So what should he do? I guess, despite his occasional spelling errors, he should go on writing. Maybe for the Canadian press. After all — sorry Mr Amara, but you wrote to me — Conrad Black writes on the front page of the National Post today without even a mention from the paper that he happens to be serving a sentence (for a slightly different crime than yours) in a US state penitentiary.

Redemption doesn't necessarily shorten sentences. Nor remorse. But people read. And then you can tell them, in their tens of thousands, what you've told me.