The Globe and Mail – October 1, 2010
Three young Canadian Muslim men have gone missing. Searches are underway. The first, Ferid Imam was an honours student from East Africa, an aspiring pharmacist and, according to his high-school soccer coach, “a dream player.” The second, Muhannad al-Farekh hopped from Texas to the United Arab Emirates to Jordan to the Prairies. And the third, Miawand Yar, an ethnic Afghani born in Pakistan, was a schoolyard bully who was arrested for selling crack on his 20th birthday.
In early 2007, instead of finishing their degrees at the University of Manitoba, the three friends boarded a plane bound for Pakistan via Europe. Their mysterious departure has sparked one of Canada’s most expensive and elaborate national security investigations since 9/11. Their flight has prompted CSIS agents to fan out around Winnipeg and the RCMP counterterrorism unit to pull in officers from across the country. Sources said they were next spotted in Peshawar – the gateway to the lawless tribal area bordering Afghanistan that is suspected of sheltering senior members of al-Qaeda. None of them has been charged with a terrorism-related offence, but national security officials say the case may be an example of how unpredictable the radicalization process can be – it can take root in any part of the country, and latch on to a variety of personalities.
In Winnipeg, the fallout has not been confined to family members. Six University of Manitoba students, complaining of stress, turned to a Muslim leader for counselling after they received repeated visits from CSIS agents. Shahina Siddiqui, the executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, said she tried to calm them and inform them of their rights while also reminding them that the authorities need to investigate.
News Agencies – August 26, 2010
Canadian Muslim leaders were variously stunned, outraged and wary at news from Ottawa that the RCMP had broken up an alleged terrorism cell with suspected links to al-Qaeda. Few details were released about the people rounded up in the bust, but they are suspected of planning a terrorist attack in Canada and authorities anticipate more arrests.
“It’s sad to hear such news. It’s disturbing,” said Imam Habeeb Alli, secretary of the Canadian Council of Imams. The Muslim Canadian Congress expressed “shock” at the developments and commended RCMP for the operation.
The Ottawa case is considered the most significant counterterrorism operation in Canada since the 2006 Toronto 18 arrests. The ringleader in the Ottawa case allegedly attended training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Similarly, in the Toronto 18 case, ringleader Fahim Ahmad was linked with a network of extremists stretching from Canada and the United States to Pakistan and the Balkans.
The RCMP’s senior counterterrorism officer has singled out radical preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki as a common thread among young Canadian extremists. Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said Awlaki, a Yemeni-American terrorist leader, had been popping up during investigations of “the individuals that are of concern to us.”
The RCMP has been investigating radicalized Canadians who have travelled to such countries as Somalia and Pakistan for terrorist training. The move followed similar measures enacted by the United States and the United Nations Security Council, which placed Awlaki on its list of individuals associated with al-Qaeda. From members of the Toronto 18 to the Somali-Canadians in Al-Shabab, many of those involved in terrorist groups share a fascination with Awlaki, who has been in hiding somewhere in Yemen since 2007.
The RCMP engaged in racial and religious discrimination when it expelled a Muslim man from its cadet academy, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled, paving the way for the man’s return to training 11 years after his dismissal. The decision upholds a finding by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2008 that Ali Tahmourpour, 37, faced verbal abuse and hostility from instructors, ridicule over his wearing of religious jewellery, and poor performance evaluations while enrolled in the RCMP’s Regina cadet academy .
Ruling his termination was based “discriminatory assessments of Mr. Tahmourpour’s skills” and that the decision to prevent his return to the academy was “based in part on his race, religion and/or ethnic or national background,” the tribunal ordered Mr. Tahmourpour’s reinstatement. But the Mounties challenged that decision last year in Federal Court, where a judge set aside the order and sent the complaint back to the Tribunal for a rehearing. Mr. Tahmourpour appealed that judgment to the Court of Appeal, where Justice Karen Sharlow this week upheld the Tribunal’s 2008 ruling, stating the RCMP’s “discriminatory treatment of Mr. Tahmourpour denied him the opportunity to complete his training at the Depot and to make his living as an RCMP officer.”
Police forces in different parts of Canada claim charges will be laid against anyone who refuses to remove religious face-coverings such as Muslim niqabs when being booked after an arrest.
The RCMP and the Montreal police forces, who outlined the policy in interviews, laid down one notable caveat: such a case has never actually come up in either of their jurisdictions.
“This is getting absurd, really,” said Wahida Valiante, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. “There are only, in the entire Quebec province, 25 women who wear the niqab so they can’t be in the highest number of criminals expected to be arrested.”
The RCMP and the Montreal force confirmed that to their knowledge no one wearing a niqab has ever refused to remove it for a mugshot. In fact, they can’t actually recall arresting anyone with a full veil either. While Montreal police sought legal advice on the issue a year ago, the RCMP say they’ve always followed the Identification of Criminals Act, part of the Criminal Code of Canada.
Five friends, in their early to mid-20s, grew up and attended schools in Toronto, Canada. They spoke English and Somali. At least two of them were university students.The Star has learned Canadian intelligence officials were watching at least one of the young men several months before he mysteriously left home.
Mahad Dhorre, Mustafa Mohamed, Mohamed Abscir and a fourth we know only as Ahmed vanished the first week of November. A fifth, Ahmed Elmi, left his home in Scarborough about three months ago. A sixth man, an Afghan, who worshipped at the same mosque, is also reportedly missing.
Online propaganda – a mix of nationalist sentiment, religious ideology and tough talk – is enough to recruit young Somali men looking for a purpose and willing to take up arms in their homeland, say community leaders in Canada and the US RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers are investigating the disappearances, canvassing areas in Little Mogadishu and questioning families. Of the 20 or so Somali-Americans who have gone missing, at least five have been killed in Somalia. One died in a suicide bombing in October 2008, part of coordinated attacks that killed 20 people.
When police rounded up 18 terror suspects around Toronto in 2006, they found copies of manifestos with titles such as The Book of Jihad, The Virtues of Jihad, Fundamental Concepts Regarding Al-Jihad and 39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad.
Such reading materials now enjoy “influence and popularity” in Canada, says a secret government study that identifies the ideologues whose writings it says are promoting “violent jihad” among Canadians. The report by the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre names Sayed Qutb, Abdullah Azzam and Ibn Taymiyah as the “key ideologues whose works have contributed to Islamist radicalization in Canada.”
The classified intelligence report, released under the Access to Information Act, is one of dozens of studies that analyze why some Canadians participate in al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist activities. A report by the RCMP National Security Criminal Investigations Section calls Qutb “the ideological father” of al-Qaeda. “Qutb validated extreme violence in the cause of faith, so ‘Islamic terrorism’ could more accurately be called ‘Qutbian terrorism,’ the RCMP report says.
The 20 or so participants hesitate before entering the basement of Anatolia Islamic Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. Most of them come to the mosque every day for prayer. This is the first time they are joined by national security officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). All of the attendees, mostly middle-aged Muslim men and a few women of mixed ethnicities, are here to take part in the RCMP citizen’s academy course, a get-to-know-your-local-law-enforcement workshop that will cover such things as Internet safety, immigration and recruitment.
The national security arm of the RCMP created the academy in 2005, a few months before the terror bust and arrest of the Toronto 18, as a way to give Muslim leaders and community members a venue to air counter-terrorism concerns and dispel misconceptions about how the RCMP operates.
Windsor’s police chief has made a public apology to the local Muslim community for the “embarrassment” caused by his tactical officers when they conducted an arrest operation. The head of the city’s police union is unrepentant.
“In my belief, this isn’t a cultural issue,” said Constable Ed Parent, president of the Windsor Police Association. “These officers had a warrant to arrest someone. They went in, and they arrested this person.”
The controversy stems from arrests made by the Windsor police tactical team last month. On Oct. 31, the team acted on a request by the RCMP and FBI to arrest Windsor residents Mohammad Al-Sahli, 33, and Yassir Ali Khan, 30, in connection with a radical Islamic group based in Detroit.
According to Patrick Ducharme, the lawyer for the two accused, the officers “patted down” a Muslim woman –Mr. Khan’s wife — who was not a part of the arrest warrant. “It was never the intention for Windsor police officers to offend or embarrass the families of our Islamic community,” wrote Police Chief Gary Smith yesterday. “The actions taken did cause embarrassment and did offend their religious beliefs. I sincerely apologize to the families and the Islamic community.”
A review of the incident highlighted the need for additional “cultural sensitivity training,” a news release said.
Saad Khalid, 23, who pleaded guilty in the so-called Toronto 18 conspiracy, was credited with seven years for time in pretrial custody. He will spend a maximum of seven more years in prison. Khalid can apply for parole in two years and four months. Justice Bruce Durno called terrorism “the most vile form of criminal conduct” and said while Khalid was not the prime mover behind the bomb plot, he had nonetheless, played a significant role.
Khalid was caught in a police sting on June 2, 2006, when hundreds of police swept across Toronto to round up more than a dozen young Muslim men. He was caught unloading boxes marked “ammonium nitrate” from the back of a truck and later admitted he knew the fertilizer was intended to be used to construct truck bombs to be detonated in the downtown core. He pleaded guilty in May 2009.
Khalid was a target of an RCMP undercover investigation called Project Osage, Canada’s most high-profile counter-terrorism operation since the 9/11 attacks. Eighteen suspects were arrested but charges against seven were eventually stayed. Nine adults are scheduled to go on trial early next year. A fund established to pay for Khalid’s education following his release has raised $63,000.