Securing the Northern Front: Canada and the War on Terror, Part II

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 15

This is the second in a two part series on Canada and the war on terror.

The information provided by Ahmed Ressam since his arrest in December 1999, sentenced yesterday to 22 years in federal prison for plotting to bomb the baggage area of the Los Angeles International Airport, ultimately led to the exposure of the Montreal network and, more importantly, proved just how active Jihadists have been in Canada. As the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services (CSIS) have warned since the early 1990s and the public has now become well aware of, Canada was being used as a financial and logistical base for international terrorists seeking to attack the United States. Moreover, far from being limited to Montreal, other Jihadi networks have been active in the country; from Ontario and Alberta, to the westernmost province of British Columbia where, in 1999, Ressam had attempted to cross over into the U.S.

Following 9/11, United States security officials looked across the border, towards Montreal, Québec where Ressam alleged that over 60 trained Jihadists remained. Of particular concern were two Tunisian-born Canadians, Abderraouf Jdey [1] and Faker Boussora [2]. The two had settled in Montreal in the early 1990s, and like a number of local militants, had also attended the Assuna mosque. There, they most likely met with Ahmed Ressam’s recruiter and fellow Tunisian, Raouf Hannachi, before being sent to train in Afghanistan. Jdey was subsequently chosen by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to pilot an airliner in a second wave of suicide attacks supposed to take place following 9/11. [3]

The Al-Kanadi Family

Apart from the Montreal group, there was another major network in Canada headed by an Egyptian-born Canadian man with strong ties to Egyptian Jihadi groups. Killed in a shootout with Pakistani security forces in Waziristan in October 2003, Ahmed Said Khadr funded the deadly November 19, 1995 Egyptian embassy bombing in Islamabad. Khadr, also known as Al-Kanadi (the Canadian), was a high ranking Canadian member of al-Qaeda who had fought the Soviets alongside Osama Bin Laden and personally knew most of al-Qaeda’s command structure, including Ayman Al-Zawhiri and Abu Zubayda.

An integral part of bin Ladin’s inner circle, Khadr ran his own training camp in Afghanistan, while his family lived in the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Jalalabad. In Canada, the Khadr family was at the heart of a recruitment and forged documentation network based in Toronto for prospective Canadian jihadists. One of his sons, Abdurahman Khadr, has since returned to Canada where he has cooperated with both Canadian and U.S. authorities.

Intersecting Networks

The Al-Kanadi network can be regarded as a branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ – led by Ayman al-Zawahiri). In Canada, the network which had been in place since the early 1980s provided assistance and shelter to members of Egyptian Salafi groups like alleged EIJ member and director of an Islamic school in the Toronto area, Mahmoud Jaballah, who was arrested in August 2001. Jaballah had links to the perpetrators of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and kept close contacts with fellow Canadians and EIJ members Essam Hafez Marzouk and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub. The latter had apparently been involved in Osama bin Laden’s construction and agricultural projects in the Sudan in the mid-1990s.

According to the CSIS, Jaballah also knew other Canadian Salafis, including al-Takfir wa al-Hijra (Excommunication and Exile) member Kassem Daher, who is currently imprisoned in Lebanon. [4] Based out of Alberta [5], the network coordinated with a cell in Florida and had been operating cross-border recruitment and financing operations for the international jihad movement since 1993. United by ideology, the Montreal group and the Al-Kanadi network were also operationally interconnected. An Ottawa man of Algerian origin by the name of Mohammad Harkat, who was arrested in December 2002, is linked to and identified by Ahmed Ressam as a fellow member of the GIA. Harkat, who arrived in Canada in 1995, is connected to the Khadrs (whom he admits meeting) as well as with al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubayda, the latter having also identified him. [6]

Exporting Terror

Canadians have been involved in major terrorist operations across the world. For instance, the aforementioned Egyptian-born Canadian Essam Marzouk, who allegedly ran a training camp in Afghanistan, is imprisoned in Egypt for plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan. Another Canadian, Abdurrahman Jabarah, was part of an operational cell in Saudi Arabia involved in the 2003 attack on a Western housing complex in Riyadh. While Abdurrahman Jabarah was later killed in a gun battle with Saudi security forces, his brother Mohammed Mansour Jabarah [7], a (Catholic) school graduate from Toronto, was allegedly in charge of significant al-Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia. He is accused of plotting the bombing of U.S. and Israeli Embassies in Singapore [8] and may have had foreknowledge of the Bali bombing. Native Kuwaitis, they are believed to have been personally recruited by Kuwaiti al-Qaeda spokesman, Suleyman Abu Ghaith. Another Kuwaiti and Afghan “alumni” is Vancouver resident Ahmad El-Maati. The alleged al-Qaeda operative is said to have planned the hijacking of an airliner in Canada in order to strike an undetermined target in the U.S.

The attacks in London by what appears to be a largely British-Pakistani cell hold many similarities to an earlier plot by Pakistani jihadists based both in Britain and Canada. In March 2004, a joint operation by British and Canadian law enforcement uncovered a transatlantic cell involving a computer engineer, Canadian-born Mohammed Momin Khawaja. [9] The suspect is said to have had a direct and “pivotal” role in plotting, along with nine other suspects, large-scale terrorist attacks in London. According to reliable reports, Khawaja had extensive links to Pakistani Islamist groups and the plot itself may be connected to the Zarqawi network.

The Next Generation

The disturbing trend involving radicalized second generation Muslims can be attributed to the role of extremist and often self-proclaimed Salafi Imams who spread the jihadist doctrine while doubling as recruiters. Both Raouf Hannachi and the Mauritanian Mohamed Ould Slahi had preached jihad at Montreal’s Assuna mosque, all the while recruiting heavily for Afghanistan and Chechnya. Tunisian Nizar Ben Mohammed Nasr Nawar, the suicide bomber involved in the attack on a synagogue in Tunisia and linked to a German cell in Duisbourg [10], had probably met the Duisbourg-based Mohamed Ould Slahi in Montreal.

Recently, allegations have been made against Sheikh Younus Kathrada of Vancouver’s Dar Al-Madinah Islamic Center for his role in sending a young Sudanese-Canadian, Rudwan Khalil Abubaker to fight and die in Chechnya. Russian authorities have tagged Abubaker as an al-Qaeda linked explosives expert, a claim denied by Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basaev, who nonetheless confirmed the Canadian’s death. [11] Two other Canadians, Moroccan-Canadian Kamal Elbahja and Azeri-Canadian Azer Tagiev, both close friends of Rudwan Abubaker have also gone missing and are thought to have traveled with him to Azerbaijan before reaching Chechnya.

In a similar case, Hassan Farhat, the director of the Salahaddin Islamic Centre in the Toronto area is thought to be one of the leaders and ideologues of Ansar al-Islam, and the alleged mastermind of a suicide bombing cell. [12] Arrested by the Kurds in Northern Iraq, he may have recruited a number of other men in Toronto including Said Rasoul and his brother Masoud Rasoul who have both gone missing in Iraq.

Cross-Border

Taking into account al-Qaeda’s long term planning as well as the recent arrests of a number of suspected and confirmed jihadists, it is logical to assume that sleeper cells remain in the U.S. and that some have links to groups or individuals based in Canada. According to the CSIS, Mohammed Harkat was arrested after making phone calls to suspected al-Qaeda members in the United States. Another suspect, the Somali-born Canadian Mohammed Abdullah Warsame successfully crossed over into the United States before settling in Minnesota. Under indictment in the USA for providing material support to al-Qaeda, Warsame had trained in Afghanistan in 2000-2001 and subsequently traveled to Minneapolis where he was enrolled in a community college. [13] Furthermore, since the early 1990s cross-border contacts had been established between Essam Marzouk and fellow EIJ member Abu Mohamed al-Amriki, a U.S. citizen directly linked to bin Laden and involved in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. [14]

Conclusion

Islamist networks comprised of Canadian-based or linked individuals are composed of three types of sub-structures: 1) a financial and logistics cell which supports operations overseas through the forging of documents, fund-raising and the sheltering or transport of militants; 2) radical Imams/ideologues who often take over mosques and use the premises to spread the jihadist ideology and to recruit future terrorists; 3) operatives, ready and willing to undertake attacks, including suicide missions. Finally, all three structures may easily overlap and all are united by the same ideology. This “triple-threat” has been understood and is being actively countered by both American and Canadian security services, which are cooperating on an unprecedented scale with their European counterparts to battle an adaptable and determined enemy which shows no signs of retreating.

Notes:

1. Exposé du directeur service canadien du renseignement de sécurité pour le sous-comité de la sécurité publique et nationale, 22 février 2005, www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/fra/ miscdocs/director20050222_f.html.

2. Eric Leser “Deux ans de traque n’ont pu réduire la menace terroriste d’Al-Qaida”, Le monde, 9/10/2003.

3. In a bizarre twist, a report from a Canadian source claims that a captured al-Qaeda operative, Canadian Mohammed Mansour Jabarah told Canadian intelligence investigators that Abderraouf Jdey was responsible for the November 13, 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587 over Queens, New York, using a shoe bomb similar to the one used by failed bomber Richard Reid.

4. National Post, Feb. 9, 2002.

5. Randy Boswell, “Former Alberta Man Charged in Plot to Wage Worldwide Jihad”,

Edmonton Journal, March 30, 2005.

6. The CSIS case against Mohamed Harkat, CBCnews, Dec 18, 2002.

7. Jim Gomez, Philippines intensifying security over report of new al-Qaida threat, Associated Press, September 9,2002.

8. Stewart Bell and Michael Friscolanti, Dozens of Canadians join Jihad terror camps: Immigrants recruited, RCMP says , The National Post, October 25, 2003.

9. Robert Fife, with files from Richard Starnes, Spy agency says it can tie Ottawa man to British plotters,

The Ottawa Citizen, Friday, April 02, 2004.

10. Yann OLLIVIER , Djerba: l’enquête sur la piste d’une nouvelle cellule Al Qaïda en Allemagne, AFP, 20 April, 2002.

11. http://chechenpress.com/news/2004/10/31/03.shtml

12. Michelle Shephard, Mosque founder tied to terror group, Toronto Star, September 9, 2005.

13. Minnesota man hit with new aiding Al-Qaeda charge, Somalilandnet, June 22, 2005, http://www.somalilandnet.com/news/pressreleases/news.shtml

14. Estanislao Oziewicz And Tu Thanh Ha, Canada Freed Top Al-Qaeda Operative: Mounties Released Him After Call To FBI, The Globe and Mail, November 22, 2001.