A Montreal man who has been fighting for years to clear himself of suspected terrorist ties says he couldn't believe his eyes when a front-page newspaper headline accused of him of plotting to blow up a plane.
Adil Charkaoui says he was "beside himself" with anger at the story last week, which cited a secret intelligence document that alleged he discussed attacking the plane with Abousfian Abdelrazik in 2000.
Charkaoui's supporters are now calling for a public inquiry into why the CSIS report was leaked to Montreal's La Presse. They say they have reason to believe high-ranking government officials are behind its release.
In his first public comments since the allegations surfaced, Charkaoui bemoaned what he called a "disgusting" smear campaign against him.
Charkaoui believes the leak was a deliberate attempt to influence his ongoing civil case against the government and he's upset that the media would decide to use it in a story.
He is suing Ottawa for $24.5 million in damages after having spent more than six years under suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent, including 21 months spent in jail.
Charkaoui recently won a Federal Court case forcing the government to reveal more information about his situation. He says his lawyers received blank pages in return.
"Then four or five days later they leak a document to La Presse," Charkaoui said in an interview. "It's really incredible. It's not something you would say happens in Canada. It's Mozambique or Zimbabwe... "I couldn't believe my eyes."
Both Charkaoui and Abdelrazik have spent years fighting accusations that they are terrorists. Charkaoui has successfully challenged a security certificate against him. Abdelrazik has also been cleared of being a security threat -- although he is still seeking to have his name removed from the United Nations terror blacklist.
It is not the first time La Presse has reported on allegations against Charkaoui based on secret CSIS documents that came into its possession.
A similar story appeared in 2007 that claimed Charkaoui had discussed using an airliner in a terrorist attack and had trained at terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
That leak was the subject of an RCMP investigation, the results of which have never been made public. CSIS also launched its own inquiry into the matter.
Charkaoui won a Federal Court challenge against La Presse in 2008, which ordered the paper to reveal the identity of the source who provided the document. That information was given to the court in a sealed envelope, pending appeal.
In delivering his ruling, Judge Simon Noel said at the time that "the greater public interest demands that the truth be told as to the origin of the leak of a secret document."
Calls to La Presse editors were not returned Wednesday. It is unclear whether the newspaper would co-operate with a public inquiry into the recent leak.
Charkaoui's supporters say such an inquiry is needed to understand how and why secret CSIS documents about Charkaoui keep getting leaked.
"We want a public inquiry into who is responsible for this leak and what the motivations were behind it," the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui said in a news release Wednesday. "There are certain ... indications that lead us to believe that high ranking officials may have been directly involved in this leak."
A coalition spokeswoman declined to provide precise details about what led it to conclude that high-ranking officials leaked the document. But she promised to release more information in the weeks ahead.
"We're deciding in what context (it) should be made public," said the coalition's Mary Foster.
His supporters also blasted Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who responded to the La Presse story last week by saying "people should be patient and thoughtful and give the government and its agencies the benefit of the doubt."
Kenney went on to say that groups supporting Charkaoui and Abdelrazik should "think very carefully about this."
The coalition representing Charkaoui said Kenney should be more concerned with the source of an illegal leak than with scoring political points off the document.
"If the courts have examined these allegations and been satisfied that they have no foundation, or if they are so hollow that they didn't even make it to court in the first place, what business is it of a cabinet minister's to announce that they constitute 'robust evidence'?" said Foster, who has worked closely with Charkaoui for several years.
"If this is what Mr. Kenney calls 'very robust evidence', he should consider sitting down with a Department of Justice lawyer to get straight on a few of the finer points of the legal system in this country.
"Frankly, it is dangerous to have someone like that in public office."
She also accused Kenney of trying to intimidate her group into remaining silent -- a gambit she said would not work.
Kenney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Moroccan-born Charkaoui was arrested in 2003 under a national security certificate for suspected terrorist links. He was set free in 2009 after the case collapsed and the certificate was quashed.