The CSIS case against Mohamed Harkat
Last Updated July 17, 2006
Terror suspect Mohamed Harkat shows his GPS tracking device at a news conference to discuss his ordeal and recent release from prison on strict conditions, in Ottawa Monday July 10, 2006. Harkat is one of five muslim men facing deportation on security certificates. The Canadian government later ordered Harkat deported back to his native Algeria. (Tom Hanson/CP)
The following account is based on CBC News stories and documents released to the public by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.
Who is Mohamed Harkat?
Harkat is an Algerian refugee living in Ottawa who was arrested in December 2002 on a security certificate that cited alleged ties with terrorists. He was held for three-and-a-half years without being charged. Under a security certificate, a detainee can be held indefinitely without a trial, and the government can keep any evidence against him or her secret.
He was released on bail in June 2006, under a long list of conditions, including the wearing of an electronic monitoring device and that he remains under 24-hour supervision, including while he is at home. He must inform authorities 48 hours in advance if he plans on leaving his home and must submit in advance names of people he plans on seeing.
His family has also had to put up $100,000 to guarantee his release conditions. His wife, Sophie Harkat, says officials with the Canadian Border Services Agency are constantly parked outside their home.
In July 2006, the Canadian government ordered Harkat deported to his native Algeria, despite his concerns he would be tortured. A federal bureaucrat with the Canadian Border Services Agency, James Schultz, ruled in a 55-page decision that Harkat posed a significant danger to Canada as a member of al-Qaeda. That factor far outweighed Harkat's right to be protected from potential abuse in Algeria, Schultz ruled.
Harkat won't be deported until the Supreme Court of Canada rules on a constitutional challenge to the security certificate process. Lawyer Paul Copeland also says he will fight the Canadian Border Services Agency decision on Harkat's behalf.
Harkat has denied all allegations against him.
Born in a small town in Algeria, Harkat's story - for the most part - is similar to that of many other Algerian men his age.
Harkat got involved in Islamist politics in the late 1980s when the Islamic Salvation Front [FIS] was becoming a popular mass movement in the country. His family allowed the FIS to use one of its properties as a regional party office in their town.
In 1992, the FIS was allowed to stand in an election and won. The generals who run Algeria, and who despise the Islamist movement, immediately cancelled the result and started rounding up FIS members and supporters.
Harkat says it was at this point that he decided to flee the country. Up to here, his story is not unlike that of a lot of legitimate Algerian refugees in Canada.
However, according to the CSIS information, Harkat set off on a course that seems to follow the profile of an al-Qaeda member.
What about him attracted the attention of CSIS?
When he left Algeria, Harkat went to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrim visa. While there, he says he was offered a job by the Muslim World League to dispense aid to Afghan refugees in Pakistan, near the city of Peshawar.
This drew the attention of CSIS. Saudi-affiliated Islamic relief organizations in Pakistan were a front for a very successful operation to get foreign Muslims into Afghanistan so that they could wage holy war against the Soviets.
These movements remained in the Peshawar area after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and they continued to attract young, jihad-minded Muslims from all over the world. Harkat arrived in Peshawar in 1990, after the Soviets had left. By then, these young Muslims would often go into Afghanistan for training in mujahedeen camps, where their new targets were not Russian, but Western.
One Saudi relief organization in Peshawar was Maktab al-Khidamat, run by Osama bin Laden. That ultimately became al-Qaeda.
CSIS says Harkat ended up in an Afghan training camp run by the bin Laden network.
How did he come to be in Canada?
In 1995, Algeria asked Pakistan to cancel the visas and work permits of all Algerians in the country. This was because the so-called "Afghans" — actually Algerians who had served and trained in Afghanistan — were the core of the more militant and violent Islamist groups that emerged after the annulment of the 1992 election.
Harkat says he was caught up in this sweep and had to leave the country. He told CSIS that it was then he started thinking about coming to Canada. Instead he went to Malaysia, which is another place of considerable interest to groups like CSIS because there is evidence that al-Qaeda has penetrated Malaysia.
Harkat says he went to Malaysia because he thought he could get a direct flight to Canada from there. But he couldn't. He says he met a man at the mosque who invited him to stay with him while he was in Kuala Lumpur, but he doesn't recall who the man was.
CSIS says Harkat finally did come to Canada on a fake Saudi Arabian passport in 1995. Refugees often use forged travel documents to get where they're going; the practice is not usually held against them. However, CSIS points out that fake Saudi Arabian passports were the travel document of choice for al-Qaeda members.
There's also a number of other things in Harkat's story that CSIS says are untrue. They say he lied:
- about not using aliases during his time in Pakistan;
- when he said he never went to Afghanistan;
- when he said he knew no one in Canada prior to coming here;
- when he claimed not to have been a supporter of the GIA the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria.
What exactly is CSIS alleging against him?
CSIS wants Harkat listed as a threat to national security under Section 78 of the Immigration Act. They say he's a "sleeper" — someone sent here to lie low and wait for instructions.
CSIS says it considers Harkat's behaviour in Canada suspicious for a number of reasons. He's admitted to going to Toronto to meet Ahmed Said Khadr, who's been linked to Egyptian Islamic Jihad and to the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. Khadr's son, also from Ottawa, is now in Guantanamo Bay after being captured with Taliban forces.
Another well-known Islamist whom Harkat contacted in Canada is Fahad al-Shehri, who was deported from Canada as a threat to national security. Harkat also received visits from Pakistan, including a Libyan called Wael (Harkat could not recall his last name). Harkat said he had never met Wael, but he says he gave him $18,000 because he liked him. Wael worked as a honey merchant; honey is a business that's very strongly associated with the bin Laden network.
The Algerian connection
Algeria has exported dangerous people along with legitimate refugees and emigrants.
The problem in Algeria was that a peaceful and popular Islamist movement was radicalized by first being allowed to participate in an election, and then having the results annulled when they won.
The mainstream FIS party set up an armed wing, which in turn spun off other armed movements. The best known is the GIA, or Armed Islamic Group, of which Ahmed Ressam was a member.
CSIS says it has proof that when the split came between the FIS and the GIA, Harkat made it clear that he was on the side of the GIA.
The civil war in Algeria that followed the cancellation of the election has now wound down somewhat. Groups like the GIA have discredited themselves by indulging in massacres.
Now, Canada says it is safe enough to lift a moratorium on sending people back to Algeria. There are a few hundred Algerian refugee claimants in Canada who risk being sent back.
Some critics say the latest shift has more to do with Sept. 11, 2001, and a fear of other people like Ahmed Ressam than with any real changes on the ground in Algeria.
What don't we know?
It is unclear whether CSIS has any information beyond what has been made public.
CSIS alleges that Harkat's main contact in al-Qaeda was Abu Zubaydah, a man American intelligence officials called one of Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenants. He was captured by the Americans in Pakistan, in March 2002.
Abu Zubaydah is the most senior al-Qaeda member to have been captured, and is reported to be co-operating with U.S. authorities. Whether Abu Zubaydah fingered Harkat as a sleeper in Canada is uncertain.
What's the significance of this case?
Al-Qaeda has placed sleepers in other countries, including those who planted the embassy bombs in Kenya and Tanzania, but this would be the first clear case of a sleeper in Canada.
Now, Osama bin Laden appears to have threatened Canada in his last taped message, if that message is genuine. But Mohamed Harkat's time in Canada predates that. It predates Sept. 11, 2001, or even the embassy bombs.
If Harkat was sent here by al-Qaeda, it could suggest a stronger and older interest in Canada than previously known.
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