Dozens of Canadians join Jihad terror camps Immigrants recruited, RCMP says

Stewart Bell and Michael Friscolanti

National Post

   

Adil Charkaoui

Saturday, October 25, 2003 

Adil Charkaoui flew to Pakistan in 1998 to study Islam, but the Canadian slipped across the Afghanistan border that summer to a barren terrorist training base called Khaldun Camp, according to intelligence agents.

He was not the only recruit from Canada.

Also there at the time were Ahmed Ressam of Montreal and his roommate Mustapha Labsi. According to officials, dozens more of the recruits who passed through the notorious jihad camps were from Canada.

At least 17 of them can be identified from publicly available documents, but officials say the number of known Canadian holy warriors is even higher.

"I think you're talking in the twenties probably," a Canadian official told the National Post.

There has been a slow but steady procession of Canadian Muslims to jihad over the past decade, many of them via the terror training bases of eastern Afghanistan, where recruits were indoctrinated into radical anti-Western ideology and taught how to make explosives and chemical weapons.

Among them: Amr Mohamed Hamed, a British Columbia man killed at a training camp in Afghanistan in 1998; Mohammed Jabarah, a Catholic school graduate from St. Catharines, Ont., who oversaw an al-Qaeda bombing conspiracy in Southeast Asia; and Abderaouf Jdey, a Montreal man whose suicide note, in which he pledged to die a martyr, was found in Kabul.

A classified RCMP intelligence report warns that recruiting will likely continue in Canada.

"Terrorists and organized crime groups may exploit flaws in migration controls to blend into and recruit from immigrant communities and also to move associates into Canada," it says.

"In Canada, over 17% of the population is foreign born, making Canada more vulnerable to these tendencies than are other developed nations," says the April 30, 2003, report, released under the Access to Information Act. "By contrast, only 9% of the U.S. population is foreign born."

Since Maher Arar was released from a Syrian jail after a year in custody, reports have claimed that in 1993, the Ottawa engineer also made the trek to Afghanistan.

In a brief interview this week with the Post, he declined to discuss the accusation. "I can't really answer any questions right now," he said.

His family insists he has no links to terrorism.

While they make up only a tiny minority of the Muslim population, Canadian jihadis have nonetheless caused significant damage.

They have attacked allied soldiers, participated in plots to kill hundreds of civilians and sullied Canada's international reputation along the way.

None of them has ever faced any criminal charges in Canada for terrorist activities.

The worst they have suffered at the hands of Canadian authorities is deportation to their homelands, or extradition to other countries that want to lock them up.

The first Muslim jihad to attract foreign volunteers was the Soviet War in Afghanistan. When the Red Army seized Kabul in 1979, Muslims from around the world saw it as a religious outrage and went off to fight in defence of their faith.

Next came the ethnic war in Bosnia, followed by the conflict in the Chechen republic, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and, now, the American occupation of Iraq.

Each has attracted large numbers of foreign Muslim fighters, including Canadians.

Security agents here began to see an influx of radical Muslims with ties to the jihad in the early 1990s, as a wave of Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians made their way to Canada seeking refuge.

That was followed in the mid-1990s by the arrival of Egyptian radicals, members of a group called Al Jihad.

In 1997, a group of jihadis who had attended Khaldun Camp returned to Canada, where they spoke enthusiastically about "the training that they have received, the learning that they have gotten and about jihad," recalled Ressam, the Montreal-based convicted terrorist. "They encouraged me, so I got interested."

When Ressam made up his mind to go to Khaldun Camp, he contacted Raouf Hannachi, a Tunisian-Canadian who performed the call to prayer at the Assuna mosque in Montreal. Hannachi, who had also trained in Afghanistan, set things up with one of Osama bin Laden's agents in Pakistan.

There were Muslims "from all nationalities who were getting training there, and each group stayed together, those who will have some work to do together later on. Each group was formed depending on the country they came from," Ressam said.

"Can you name some of the countries that were represented at the camp?" a U.S. prosecutor asked Ressam on July 3, 2001.

"Yes," he replied. "Jordanians, Algerians, from Yemen, from Saudi Arabia, from Sweden, from Germany also, French also, Turks also and Chechnyans also."

And Canadians.

Ressam trained with his friend from Montreal, fellow Algerian Mustapha Labsi, and a man he knew as Zubeir Al-Magrebi, but whose real name was Adil Charkaoui, according to Canadian intelligence.

Mr. Charkaoui was arrested in Montreal in May. He denies ever setting foot in Afghanistan, but two witnesses say otherwise.

Ressam trained at Khaldun and Darunta camps for almost a year. He learned "how to blow up the infrastructure of a country ... how to assassinate someone in an operation ... to preserve your secrets," he said.

Upon returning to Canada under a false identity, he tried to blow up Los Angeles International Airport but was caught by a U.S. border guard and was convicted.

Five months later, his recruiter, Hannachi, returned to Tunisia.

He fled because he was being harassed by Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents, said Samir Ezzine, Mr. Charkaoui's friend. He added Mr. Charkaoui also knew Hannachi "enough to shake hands when they crossed paths."

A former senior intelligence official said that during the Ressam investigation, Canadian authorities identified up to a dozen people in Canada who had trained at the camps.

"Some of them were probably connected to Hannachi," the official said.

Hannachi's contact in Pakistan was Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi-born Palestinian in bin Laden's inner circle who ran a safe house in Peshawar.

"Abu Zubaydah was reportedly a facilitator and a recruiter who would screen people for training and future assignment," a CSIS report says.

Canadian documents link Zubaydah to at least a half-dozen people in Canada with alleged ties to terrorism, including Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian-born pizza delivery man arrested in Ottawa as a threat to security in December, 2002.

Zubaydah was captured on March 28, 2002, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and has been talking to authorities, raising the possibility that he may help identify even more Canadians who trained at the camps.

The successful recruitment of Canadians into the jihad raises a troubling question for Canada: What is it that makes a middle-class teenager from Scarborough or Montreal give up everything and go halfway around the world to wage religious violence?

Professor Martin Rudner, a leading Canadian intelligence scholar, attributes the phenomenon partly to a sense of alienation among some Muslim youths, who turn to extreme religion to counter the marginalization they feel in Canada.

"Many of the al-Qaeda terrorists who have been identified spent their formative years in the West, in Europe, the U.S. and indeed Canada, but were alienated and socialized towards extremism," he said. "They are recruited because they seek to identify."

Another factor is that some young Muslim Canadians from countries such as Pakistan, Algeria and Egypt see themselves as participants in the religious conflicts of their homelands, forced unwillingly into exile.

"In that sense they are homeland-Islamic exiles rather than immigrants to Canada. They are recruited precisely because they are would-be combatants," said Prof. Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

But not to be underestimated is the promotion of Islamic militancy by clerics, he added. "The Wahabbi movement in Saudi Arabia has been aggressively promoting its militant and, indeed, totalitarian perspective on Islam among Muslim communities across the world, through the funding of mosques and religious schools, the dispatch of clerics and teachers, the dissemination of religious tracts and other materials.

"Many of Canada's mosques and Muslim schools have been established under Saudi, and thus Wahabbi, auspices. The teachings of these religious and educational institutions can be expected to influence and shape the outlook of the Canadian Muslim community, and especially the mind-set of the young. They become targets for recruitment because of their militant religious acculturalization."

A CSIS agent estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 Muslims were trained at bin Laden's network of camps since 1980. With so many people passing through, some were bound to be Canadians. In fact, at least two Canadians were allegedly involved in running bin Laden's camps, Essam Marzouk and Abdullah Khadr.

Not one of bin Laden's recruits has ever faced any criminal charges in Canada for their participation in the jihad, either before or after the Liberal government hurried its anti-terrorism law through the House of Commons after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

By contrast, U.S. authorities have aggressively prosecuted those who trained for jihad. When investigators in Buffalo identified six Muslim youths who had trained at bin Laden's al-Farooq camp in the summer of 2001, they were charged with providing material support to al-Qaeda. All six pleaded guilty.

Where are all the Canadian jihadis now?

Marzouk is serving 15 years of hard labour in Egypt after he was arrested in Azerbaijan. Ressam is awaiting sentencing in the U.S. Abdulrahman and Omar Khadr are detainees at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The FBI has issued an alert for Jdey in relation to a possible plan to attack the United States. Abdulrahman Jabarah was killed in a gun battle with Saudi security forces.

Mr. Charkaoui is awaiting a trial that will decide whether he should be deported back to Morocco.

"Very few of them are [still] here," the Canadian official said. "A lot of them are dead. Some of them are gone.

"A lot of them are in jail in various places."

CAPTURED:

RAOUF HANNACHI Montreal-based recruiter for al-Qaeda. Returned to Tunisia in October, 2001, due to CSIS "harassment."

FATEH "MOUSTAPHA" KAMEl Leader of the Montreal cell of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group. Jailed in France.

OMAR KHADR Son of Ahmed Khadr, he killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Detained in Guantanamo Bay.

ABDULRAHMAN KHADR Son of Ahmed Khadr, he trained with al-Qaeda. Detained at Guantanamo Bay.

MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI A Mauritanian who lived at a Montreal mosque, he is said to have recruited 9/11 hijackers Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah. Detained at Guantanamo Bay.

ADIL "AL-MAGREBI" CHARKAOUI Trained at camp in Afghanistan, according to CSIS. Detained in Montreal, facing possible deportation.

AT LARGE:

ABDULLAH KHADR Son of Ahmed Khadr who is believed to have run an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

HAMID AICH Fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, he came to Montreal in 1995 and later moved to Vancouver, where he lived with Abdelmajid Dahoumane, who helped build Ahmed Ressam's bomb. He left Canada in February, 1999.

MUSTAPHA LABSI Trained in Afghanistan in 1998 with his Montreal roommate, Ahmed Ressam. He was arrested in London while trying to fly to Toronto but was released after serving a six-month sentence.

DEAD:

ABDULRAHMAN JABARAH Key figure in a group that organized attacks in Riyadh. Killed by Saudi security forces in 2003.

AMR MOHAMED HAMED Killed in 1998 at a training camp in Afghanistan.

 

National Post 2003

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