Calgary jihadists' associate cleared on terrorism charges in Algeria

A Calgary man, who also holds Algerian citizenship, is free after spending more than a year being detained in an Algerian prison.

Abderrahmane Ghanem spent 13 months in prison but will be released following a 30-minute trial

Abderrahmane Ghanem, pictured in 2011, was held for 13 months in a notorious Algerian prison. (Ghanem family)

A Calgary man who also holds Algerian citizenship has been cleared of terrorism charges after spending more than a year in an Algerian prison awaiting trial.

Adberrahmane Ghanem, 30, has spent the last 13 months in El-Harrach prison, notorious for abhorrent conditions. He was charged with being a member of a terrorist group outside of Algeria. If convicted, he faced up to 20 years in jail.

His father, Mohammed Ghanem, says he's delighted with Tuesday's verdict.

"It's the happiest day of my life," he told CBC News by phone from Algiers, the capital of Algeria.

Family blames CSIS

Mohammed was in the courtroom when the verdict was handed down. He said Abderrahmane was calm during the proceedings and smiled when the verdict was read out. The entire process lasted 30 minutes.

"The panel of four judges unanimously ruled to acquit my son of all charges," said Mohammed.

He told CBC News that a Canadian consular official was present in the courtroom when the verdict was issued.

Ghanem's Canadian lawyer, Gary Caroline, was surprised by the outcome, but not by the presence of the Canadian government representative. 

"I am convinced, as is the family, that the only reason why he was arrested by the Algerians and charged was because CSIS shared information with the Algerian intelligence service, and as a matter of fact, the court documents that we saw attest to that," said Caroline.

Associated with Calgary jihadi cluster

Between 2010 and 2012, Abderrahmane was associated with several men from Calgary who eventually left Canada to fight in Syria.

"The ones he is hanging out with the most are Damian Clairmont, Waseem Alhaj Youcef and they used to hang out with Badi Hammadieh," said Mohammed.

CBC News has reported extensively on the cluster of men who met frequently during those years at the 8th and 8th Musalla, a mosque in downtown Calgary that has now closed its doors and moved to a new location.

Shortly after war broke out in Syria, the men began leaving to join the fight to topple the Assad regime in Damascus.

'I know my son'

Mohammed told CBC News that while he was concerned about his son's association with the radicalized men, he "hadn't noticed anything abnormal with Abderrahmane."

"I know my son, he wasn't a violent person," said Mohammed. "He is not the type of person that will get involved in violence. He never fought anyone in his life. Never," Mohammed said.

Abderrahmane Ghanem's lawyer blames CSIS for his client's incarceration. Ghanem is seen here while hiking in Canada. (Ghanem family)

Instead of joining his friends' journey to the front lines in Syria and Iraq, Ghanem chose instead to return to Algeria, the country of his birth.

During a visit to Oman in 2016 to spend time with his parents, Abderrahmane was detained and deported back to Algeria.

Upon his arrival, Abderrahmane was arrested and charged with participating in a terrorist organization outside of Algeria, according to Mohammed,

El-Harrach prison

Mohammed told CBC News that his son was held with 75 men in a unit at the notorious El-Harrach prison in Algiers that has only 36 beds and one shower that doubles as a toilet.

Caroline said when Ghanem returns to Canada he will need some time to readjust to normal life.

"The conditions in the Algerian prison were difficult, he has been there for a long time," he said.

"I think he is likely going to take some time to reflect on what has happened to his life and where he wants to go, and one of the things he is going to think about is what actions, if any, he is going to take against the Canadian government," said Caroline.

Asked whether he expects Canadian authorities to charge Abderrahmane should he return to Canada, Caroline said his client "has done nothing wrong so I would be shocked if he came back to Canada and faced charges here."

"There is nothing against him in Canada that could be proven in a court of law and that's why they contracted the job out to the Algerians to do the dirty work, because they could not do it here."

CSIS response

When asked whether CSIS shared information with Algerian authorities, Tahera Mufti, CSIS's chief of public affairs, said "CSIS' information sharing with foreign partners is conducted in strict accordance with the CSIS Act, ministerial direction and a robust system of internal policies and procedures.

"As a general rule, information which CSIS shares with foreign partners may not be used in judicial proceedings without the service's express consent. Foreign governments may of course take legal action on the basis of their own information," wrote Mufti.

Global Affairs previously told CBC News they had provided consular services while Abderrahmane was jailed.