U.S. lists Montreal mosque as al-Qaeda 'recruiting' place

A Montreal mosque was among nine prayer houses or Islamic institutes considered by the U.S. military to be places where al-Qaeda members were recruited or trained, according to leaked classified U.S. intelligence documents.

Detainee who lived in Montreal disputes U.S. claims of links to millennium bomb plot, 9/11

The leaked documents claim members of al-Qaeda were recruited and trained at the Montreal mosque. (CBC)

The Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah Mosque in Montreal was among nine houses of prayer or Islamic institutes worldwide considered by the U.S. military to be places where "known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained," according to leaked classified American intelligence documents.

According to the Pentagon's Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants, among documents from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, posted by the New York Times on Sunday, the other mosques or Islamic centres included:

  • Abu Bakr Islamic University in Karachi, Pakistan.
  • Makki Mosque, also in Karachi.
  • Al Khair Mosque in Sanaa, Yemen.
  • Dimaj Institute in Sadah, Yemen.
  • Finsbury Park Mosque and Four Feathers Youth Club in the United Kingdom.
  • Laennec Mosque in Lyon, France.
  • Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy.
  • Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Matrix of Threat documents were designed in the early days of the Guantanamo detention centre to guide military intelligence interrogators and analysts there as they tried to assess what detainees might have done in the past and what risk they might pose in the future, the Times said.

Several men who passed through the Montreal mosque in the late 1990s ended up detained outside of Canada, including in Guantanamo Bay, after the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, the Globe and Mail reported Monday.

The most significant figure was Mohamedou Ould Salahi, an electrical engineer from Mauritania who, according to another leaked classified document, served as an imam at the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah Mosque in Montreal for about a month.

A call to the mosque wasn't immediately returned on Monday evening.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi served briefly as imam at the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque in late 1999, according to another leaked classified document. ((U.S. Department of Defence/Wikileaks))

According to the classified memo prepared by the U.S. Department of Defence in March 2008 and published Monday by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, Salahi was an admitted al-Qaeda member with family ties to a senior member of the organization.

The U.S. intelligence document alleges Salahi, 40, was a leader of an al-Qaeda cell in Duisburg, Germany, and later the leader of the Montreal-based al-Qaeda cell that was responsible for the foiled millennium bombing plot targeting Los Angeles International Airport and possibly other U.S.-based targets.

The document also alleges that Salahi recruited three of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack highjackers and facilitated their training.

The memo concluded he should continue to be detained at Guantanamo because he is an admitted member of al-Qaeda who swore bayat (allegiance) to Osama bin Laden, trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, served as a key member of the organization's network in Europe and was prepared to be a martyr.

It says Salahi bounced around Europe in the 1990s, living and working in Germany, alleging his main responsibility was recruitment for al-Qaeda. He relocated along with his wife and family to Canada in 1999 when he had trouble extending his visa in Germany.

"Detainee obtained an immigrant landing visa from the Canadian government and on 26 November 1999, travelled to Montreal, CA, where he stayed with [Hosni] Mohsen, and made plans to study electrical engineering at the Polytechnic [de] Montreal.… While in Montreal, detainee became the imam at the al-Sunnah Mosque during the month of Ramadan, replacing the previous imam, who left for hajj (pilgrimage) to Saudi Arabia," the document stated.

In late December 1999, the Mounties questioned Salahi about Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian Montrealer who was arrested at the U.S.-Canadian border while trying to enter the U.S. with explosives, and became known as the "Millennium Bomber." It was alleged the two met sometime between Salahi's arrival in Canada and Ressam's arrest.

Salahi was assessed by the U.S. military to be "high" risk, posing a threat to the United States, its interests and allies if released without adequate rehabilitation — an assessment given to most of the 172 remaining Guantanamo detainees. 

The U.S. intelligence documents also showed that about one-third of the 600 prisoners already transferred to the custody of other nations were also declared "high risk" before their transfers, the New York Times reported

They also make little mention of the harsh interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo, methods such as sleep deprivation and exposure to cold temperatures that drew criticism from around the world, the newspaper reported.

Salahi disputes allegations, alleging abuse

Salahi has acknowledged joining the mujahedeen in its fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But he says he had no role in the millennium bomb plot and denies any association with al-Qaeda, the Taliban or their associates since 1992.

Salahi has tried unsuccessfully to obtain Canadian intelligence documents from the interviews the RCMP conducted with him in 2000, which he claims could corroborate his claim of abuse at the hands of his American captors.

The Supreme Court has refused to hear his case while the Federal Court of Canada ruled last year that he is not entitled to the information because he is neither a Canadian citizen nor subject to legal proceedings in Canada.

At the end of January 2000, Salahi went to visit his ailing mother in Mauritania, where he was detained on several occasions before authorities there turned him over to Jordanian authorities.

Eventually he was handed over to the U.S. military and later transferred in August 2002 to Guantanamo, where he continues to be held.

With files from The Canadian Press