INDEPTH: PASSPORT TO TERROR|
CBC News Online | Oct. 2004
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Producer: Michelle Gagnon
Editor: Dominic Rioual
Camera: Douglas Husby
In September 2001, just a few weeks after the attacks on the United States, a mysterious young man crossed the border from Malaysia by bus and entered Singapore.
He was travelling on a Canadian passport.
The man arrived at the Royal Hotel, where he was met by several members of a local al-Qaeda-affiliated group called Jemaah Islamiyah.
He was introduced to the group as "Sammy," an emissary from al-Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan.
The Jemaah Islamiyah members took their guest to a meeting at a car park by the Singapore waterfront, where they were to discuss the targets for potential attacks in the city, such as Western embassies and a U.S. warship in Singapore harbour.
The men planned to use about three tonnes of explosives, and "Sammy" was to provide cash from al-Qaeda to buy them.
But the local Islamic militants were under police surveillance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and many of the local Jemaah Islamiyah members were suddenly arrested. They confessed their plot to the police and mentioned their meeting with the young emissary from al-Qaeda headquarters.
Though "Sammy" escaped from Singapore, police quickly identified him through the landing card he filled out when he entered Singapore.
Sammy's real name is Mohammed Mansour Jabarah. On the landing card, he claimed his place of residence as the southern Ontario city of St. Catharines.
Mohammed Mansour Jabarah
Jabarah, who was already listed in Canadian police files as an al-Qaeda suspect, became the object of an international manhunt.
He was arrested three months later in the Persian Gulf state of Oman, and brought back to Canada in April 2002, where he was interrogated for several days by Canadian intelligence agents.
After four days, Jabarah was taken to the Niagara Falls border crossing, where he was passed over to American authorities. He has been in U.S. custody ever since.
Jabarah's father, Mansour, insists his son is innocent, that he has nothing to do with al-Qaeda.
Jabarah's father, Mansour
"For 100 per cent Mohammed did not involve in this organization," says Mansour, holding a photo of Jabarah at Niagara Falls given to him by Canadian intelligence officials. "If you are telling me why, because I know my son, I know his behaviour."
But police in Singapore, Canada and the U.S. all say that he was sent to Southeast Asia by Osama bin Laden himself. They say that his planned attack could have killed thousands.
How is it possible that a young Canadian could be involved at the highest levels of al-Qaeda? The story begins in the early 1990s, when the Jabarah family emigrated from Kuwait to Canada.
From Kuwait to Canada
Mohammed Mansour Jabarah was only 12 when his family packed up and moved to Canada. His father Mansour was a successful businessman.
"We decided to move to Canada," says his father. "We felt it was a very good place - a very secure place to build your future."
The family settled in St. Catharines and seemed to flourish. Jabarah had one younger brother and two older brothers.
Mohammed Mansour Jabarah attended Holy Cross Catholic Secondary school and seemed to adjust well.
"Mostly he liked playing soccer… We used to play together every Saturday and Sunday," says Mansour. "He likes to play soccer all the time."
The Jabarah family faithfully attended the Masjid an-Noor mosque in St. Catharines, where Mansour Jabarah was regularly called upon to lead the Friday prayers.
He was quickly considered to be a natural leader in the local Muslim community says Mosque spokesperson Sallah Hamdani. "He's very helpful in the community. He's very active, very trustworthy," says Hamdani. "We say as Muslims, when a Muslim sees another Muslim that is trustworthy or helpful they employ him and God will employ him…. Mansour Jabarah fits that description as a person that was active in the community."
Mansour says he brought up his children to be good, peaceful Muslims. "'Don't drink, don't smoke, don't have parties. You have to be sincere, you have to be honest, you have to pray, you have to be close to God if you want God to help you,'" says Mansour. "To be a nice person in general. This is what I installed in their hearts. "
Mohammed Mansour Jabarah and his brothers would return to Kuwait every summer to vacation and re-connect with their families. There, they attended the local mosque, where it appears that Jabarah and his brother Abdul Rahman became devoted to a famous imam there, a radical preacher by the name of Abu Gaith.
"Kuwait is a very small country," says Mansour Jabarah. "You know that any imam - any famous speaker - is very fast to spread his name among their people. This Abu Gaith, with my knowledge, there is no special relation with my son and him."
Later, Abu Gaith was revealed to be a prominent leader of al-Qaeda.
As a teenager, Mohammed Jabarah became pre-occupied with what he saw as the persecution of Muslims around the world. In the late 1990s, he saw the Russian republic of Chechnya as the worst example, and so he began raising money in St. Catharines for Chechen Muslim rebels and sent about $3,500 to Abu Gaith in Kuwait.
Jabarah graduated from Holy Cross high school in St. Catharines in June 2000. His father says Mohammed was accepted at St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia to continue his education. His family was thrilled.
But Mohammed Mansour Jabarah and his brother Abdul Rahman chose not to go university in Canada. They told their parents instead that they wanted to pursue advanced studies in Islam somewhere in the Persian Gulf region.
The information known about Jabarah is derived from secret reports of his interrogation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The CBC has obtained some of those reports.
One man who has studied the interrogation reports is Rohan Gunaratna, an academic in Singapore who has written several books about al-Qaeda.
Gunaratna says that al-Qaeda tends to recruit people from the Middle East or Asia who live in North America, Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand for a good reason. "Those are the white countries of this world," he says. "If you have a passport from one of those countries, if you have lived in one of those countries, then you have natural cover. You can travel around the world and not be suspected."
The FBI interrogation reports say that al-Qaeda recruited Jabarah and his brother in Kuwait and sent them to Pakistan for training.
Mohammed travelled first to Karachi, then to Peshawar in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan, at the time an al-Qaeda stronghold. It was there the Jabarah brothers began attending al-Qaeda training camps.
Their father says he was surprised and disappointed when they called him from Pakistan "They were looking for an Islamic school, but they did not tell me they were going to Pakistan," says Mansour. "Maybe I thought they went to any close Muslim country, Iraq or United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia or whatever. But to go that far… In Pakistan, we don't have any friends, we don't have any relative, we don't have any communication. It's a new life for them…. "Of course, I did not agree with them on what they were doing at that time," he says.
CSIS comes to call
In March 2001, Jabarah's parents decided to go to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage attended by Muslims from around the world. Their son Abdul Rahman joined them in Saudi Arabia.
When Abdul Rahman Jabarah re-entered Canada for a visit he was questioned by an immigration officer who noticed the Pakistani visa in his passport.
The following day the Jabarah household in St Catharines received its first visit from agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, who wanted to know more about Abdul Rahman's experiences in Pakistan.
"They were asking like regular questions, 'How are you, how was school, did you visit Pakistan and for what reason,'" Mansour says. "It was very normal because this is the truth."
It's now known that CSIS was concerned about whether any Canadian Muslims were going through Pakistan to the camps of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
"They asked me, 'Did you have any idea about this camp? Do you have any idea where your sons go over there?'" recalls Mansour. "This type of questions I remember, they were focusing about it."
But Mansour says his son told CSIS he had nothing to do with these camps.
But Maria Ressa, who has spent years covering Southeast Asia for CNN, had access to the Jabarah interrogation reports for her book Seeds of Terror. She believes the two brothers were indoctrinated into al-Qaeda.
"It's brainwashing," she says of al-Qaeda's methods. "It's inculcating them with a view of the world that is so virulently full of hatred for the satanic people - the Western world, the United States, anyone who is not Muslim. It takes the Muslim faith and twists it on itself and presents a whole new world order.
"And in that world order, there are still the shadows of the men they were - of the kids that they were," she adds. "But they have a whole new purpose that they believe in wholeheartedly enough to kill themselves for…The first phase of Jemaah Islamiyah's or al-Qaeda's training is brainwashing.
Mansour says that it is conceivable that his sons were brainwashed by al-Qaeda. "It may be possible. Maybe, why not?" he replies. "They are young, they don't have experience, they don't have any kind of knowledge. It is possible to brainwash any kind of person."
Connecting with al-Qaeda
According to the FBI interrogation reports, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah travelled from Peshawar in the early summer of 2001, across the border into Afghanistan where he attended other al-Qaeda training camps. Just north of Kabul, he did basic training and received specialized instruction to become a sniper. Finally, he took an advanced explosives course.
He met with Osama bin Laden on four occasions and swore an oath of allegiance to him. He says that bin Laden was especially interested in him because he had a Canadian passport, which would throw off suspicion as he travelled around the world as an al-Qaeda operative.
In the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah also met with several other notable figures, including Ahmed al-Haznawi, who became one of the Sept. 11 hijackers; Zacarias Moussaoui, now charged in the U.S. in connection with Sept.11; and Richard Reid, who later tried to blow up an American Airlines jet with a bomb in his shoe.
When Jabarah came down with a bad case of hepatitis, he was apparently treated by the number 2 man in al-Qaeda, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Bin Laden then sent Jabarah for special training by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who at the time was preparing the Sept. 11 attack.
Rohan Gunaratna explains the kind of training Jabarah received from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
"That was Khalid's specialty," Gunaratna says, " He once spent time with the 9/11 operational commandants, the four technical pilots who crashed their planes and told them how to behave, how to use the fork and the knife, how to talk to someone, how to smile when you go through the airport, how to carry magazines with beautiful girls so that you will not be suspected…how to shave, how put some perfume, how to wear a chain, and a bracelet so that you will not be suspected as a terrorist but so someone will think that this guy is rich guy from the middle east, he doesn't want to commit suicide, so Khalid trained Mohammed Mansour Jabarah in that same model, in that same way.
A loss of nerve
Khalid ordered Mohammed Mansour Jabarah to fly out of Pakistan before Sept. 11, 2001 but didn't tell him exactly why. Jabarah left Karachi on Sept. 10 and flew to Hong Kong.
He was overnighting in a Hong Kong hotel when he saw the Sept. 11 attack on television. He instantly recognized it as the work of al-Qaeda. Now he understood why Khalid wanted him to leave Pakistan before Sept. 11.
Watching the replays of the attack, Jabarah nearly lost his nerve for continuing with his al-Qaeda mission.
Rohan Gunaratna says the Sept. 11 attacks affected Jabarah deeply. "[He] was very shocked and very surprised at the skill of the attack, but in Hong Kong there were second thoughts for a moment," says Gunaratna. "He wondered if this was the right thing to do."
Maria Ressa says Jabarah had a "moment of weakness" after seeing the Sept. 11 attacks, but soon got over it. "Because this 9/11 attack happened, he said, 'I've got to be as good as my brothers,'" she says. "Then he went on to what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed entrusted to him. "
Mohammed Mansour Jabarah is a prime example of the way al-Qaeda motivates its followers, says Ressa. "[He] shows you the way al-Qaeda works, harnessing young minds, giving them a sense of purpose, making them feel like they're part of a bigger whole, all working together to bring down the United States," she says.
The next day, Sept. 12, Jabarah flew from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, one of the world's leading Muslim cities.
At night, Jabarah met up with the local al-Qaeda contacts at a McDonald's restaurant in the basement of a downtown shopping complex.
He was told that there would be no attacks in Malaysia, because al-Qaeda wanted to maintain good relations in the Muslim country, retaining it as a base of operations. Then he was taken to the Indian quarter of the city, where he stayed in a small hotel.
Jabarah would regularly visit internet cafés to stay in touch with his al-Qaeda contacts, setting up several e-mail accounts to stay in touch with al-Qaeda headquarters in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as communicate with al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia.
Meeting a key figure
In early October 2001, Jabarah set off on the next leg of his mission, boarding a flight in Kuala Lumpur for a three-hour journey to Manila.
In the Philippine capital, Jabarah met with a key al-Qaeda operative in Southeast Asia, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, code-named "Mike."
Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi
According to Gunaratna, al-Ghozi was a Javanese who had worked as an explosives trainer in Afghanistan and was Jemaah Islamiyah's number one operative in Southeast Asia.
Al-Ghozi was also the connection between the local groups and al-Qaeda, says Maria Ressa.
"He's an empowered local guy," says Ressa, adding that because al-Ghozi had extensive training, knew the region and could speak all the languages, he could blend into the local scene. "He could be a hand, he could be planner," she says. "He is that nexus, and part of the reason he was so important was that he connected different cells all across the region."
Al-Ghozi was also an experienced bomber. Only a year earlier, he had attacked four targets in Manila, including the bombing of commuter trains that killed 22 people.
Plotting in Manila
In October 2001, al-Ghozi took Mohammed Jabarah on a reconnaissance mission around Manila to scout out more targets for terrorist attacks. Al-Ghozi said he had 300 kg of TNT and wanted at least four tonnes of explosives in total.
The men surveyed their main target - the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Boulevard. But they decided it was set too far back from the street and too well-guarded to think of attacking with a truck bomb. They thought an attack with an airplane would be more effective.
U.S. Embassy in Manila
Then they looked at the Israeli Embassy in Manila, but that too was a difficult target because it was in a high-rise and had heavy security.
The al-Qaeda operatives decided that perhaps they should seek similar targets elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and so Jabarah left Manila after 10 days, heading back to Malaysia.
According to Rohan Gunaratna, "[Jabarah] wrote in his report the only way we can attack the U.S. and Israeli embassies is by air, to hijack a plane and crash it into the embassies. So you can see that [he] was thinking like a typical al-Qaeda member. Khalid had given him the right training. Because the right terrorist training is not to think of the rules, but to think of the goal, to think of the target … How you destroy it clearly does not matter."
NEXT: Singapore in the cross-hairs