Feds probe Egypt's claim that man tied to Canada spied for Israel
Diplomats are trying to find out more, while security officials are staying mum about a man with a Canadian connection arrested in Egypt and charged with spying for Israel.
Mohamed Essam Ghoneim el-Attar was detained in Cairo last month, but the charges against him— and three alleged Israeli cohorts— were not made public until the weekend.
El-Attar has been variously described as 26 or 31 years old, as an Egyptian native who also holds Canadian citizenship, and as someone who obtained a residence permit in Canada by using a false name.
"We are aware of reports of the arrest," Bernard Nguyen, a spokesman at Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa, said Sunday. "We have been in contact with our embassy in Cairo and we are investigating."
So far, however, the department has not confirmed the man's citizenship or other details of his background.
Egyptian authorities say el-Attar, a one-time student at Al-Azhar University, left his homeland in 2001 for Turkey, where he was allegedly recruited by Israeli agents.
He is said to have come to Canada in 2003, with Israeli help, and was still living here when he travelled to Cairo in January and was arrested at the airport upon arrival.
It's also alleged that, while in Canada, he was paid by the Israelis to spy on people of Egyptian or other Arab descent, and that he used his job at an unnamed bank to obtain information about certain accounts.
His three supposed Israeli accomplices, who were charged in absentia in Cairo, were identified by the state news agency as Daniel Levi, Kemal Kosba and Tuncay Bubay. The latter two are said to hold dual Israeli-Turkish citizenship.
Barbara Campion, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wouldn't say whether the agency is taking an interest in the affair.
"We never comment on operational matters (and) we never confirm whether we're interested in particular people," said Campion.
It's a matter of public record, however, that CSIS closely monitors what it calls "foreign interference," the spy agency's term for foreign intelligence services that target ethnic communities in Canada.
Ottawa and Tel Aviv have had run-ins in the past about Israeli operations in Canada, as well as incidents abroad in which the Israelis have posed as Canadians to cover their spy operations.
In 1997 Canada temporarily called its ambassador home from Israel in protest over the fact that two Israeli agents had used fake Canadian passports as part of a botched assassination plot against a Palestinian militant.
There was another flap in 2002 when a Palestinian informant disclosed he had been recruited by Israelis pretending to be Canadians, and yet another dispute in 2004 over allegations that an Israeli spy had travelled to China and North Korea using a stolen Canadian passport.
The most serious confrontation over Israeli operations in Canada came in 1990, when Victor Ostovsky, a former Mossad agent who had moved to Ottawa, wrote a book about his career in Israeli intelligence.
Ostovsky said he was harassed by Israeli operatives who tracked him down and threatened him with physical harm.
Foreign Affairs called the Israeli ambassador on the carpet over the affair and CSIS delivered a stern rebuke to senior Mossad officials— though both protests were hushed up at the time and didn't become public until two years later.