Man freed in 2009 was sleeper agent and terror threat, feds allege

Government claims Adil Charkaoui spoke of hijacking a plane and a possible biochemical attack

Ryan Remiorz/CP

Adil Charkaoui was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent and terror threat who spoke of hijacking a plane and of a possible biochemical attack on Montreal’s Metro system, the federal government contends in startling new documents.

The allegations are the latest salvo by the Department of Justice in a 10-year legal battle against the Moroccan-born Charkaoui. A permanent resident of Canada since 1995, Charkaoui was arrested in 2003 on security certificates and spent 21 months in jail and several years under virtual house arrest, fighting deportation. In an apparent rebuke of Canada’s counter-terrorist methods, a federal judge halted proceedings against him in 2009. Charkaoui left court a free man, triumphantly snipping his court-ordered GPS tracking unit off his ankle on the way out.

Now, for the first time, the government has outlined exactly how it believes Charkaoui, who lives in Montreal, was a grave threat to national security. Charkaoui, who has always maintained his innocence, sued the federal government for $26.5 million in 2010, claiming it had for years unfairly targeted him as a terrorist. In its statement of defence filed last Friday, Canada’s Attorney General’s office lays out some of the government’s evidence against the 39-year-old father of four. Among its allegations: that Charkaoui associated with some of the world’s most notorious terrorists, including so-called “Millennium Bomber” Ahmed Ressam and 9/11 mastermind Zacarias Moussaoui, and attended al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

One of the more damning claims regards Charkaoui’s alleged plans for Montreal, where he has lived with his family since arriving in Canada. The government says CSIS intercepted a call between two alleged Charkaoui acquaintances on July 18, 2002, during which one “related a worrisome conversation with a certain ‘Adil’, during which [Adil] spoke of a possible biochemical attack in the Metro,” according to the government filing. “Despite the fact that the conversation didn’t permit a definite confirmation of the identity of ‘Adil’ in question, CSIS believed that it was definitely [Charkaoui], given the close relations between [the three men].”

Charkaoui, the government contends, also talked of “taking control of an airplane for aggressive purposes”. This information was the fruit of a phone conversation between Charkaoui and two alleged acquaintances intercepted by CSIS in June 2000, according to the filing. The government believed Charkaoui was all the more dangerous because he was a so-called “sleeper agent working for a terrorist organization.”

“A sleeper agent can remain inactive for long periods of time and is ready to spring into action at the opportune time. Otherwise, he attempts to integrate, even dissolve, into society as much as possible.”

Regardless of his alleged motives, Charkaoui has certainly done that. A resident of Montreal’s Anjou borough, Charkaoui found a job teaching French at a private high school outside of the city. He has had the support of several prominent academics and politicians, including Quebec MNA Amir Khadir, throughout his fight with Canadian authorities.

In 2007, the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s process for issuing security certificates — government-issued warrants allowing “the removal from Canada of non-Canadians who have no legal right to be here and who pose a serious threat to Canada and Canadians” — saying it went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two years later, the government withdrew its evidence in Charkaoui’s deportation proceedings, claiming that it would be a threat to national security if it were released. A federal judge then halted Charkaoui’s deportation hearings and put an end to his virtual house arrest, under which he had to maintain a curfew and wear a GPS unit around his ankle. His case is often cited as an example of the perils of Canada’s counter-terrorism policy.

Yet this statement of defence offers new details about Charkaoui’s alleged past, as pieced together by CSIS over the last 15 years. “A CSIS investigation showed there was reason to believe that [Charkaoui] participated in Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, at the same time as other notorious terrorists including [Millennium Bomber] Ahmed Ressam, [9/11 mastermind] Zacarias Moussaoui and [convicted French terrorist] Slimane Khalfaoui,” reads the filing.

It further says that Ressam said he met Charkaoui at the al-Qaeda training camp known as Khalden in 1998. Ressam, the document says, twice identified Charkaoui under the pseudonym “Zubeir-al-Maghrebi” from pictures during interviews with CSIS in 2002.

“Ahmed Ressam also indicated that he met [Charkaoui] during the summer of 1999 in Montreal, when the latter was with another individual, possibly of Moroccan origin, who had also been seen at the Jalalabad residence of Abou Zubaida,” reads the filing. Zubaida, a suspected high-level al-Qaeda operative, is currently being held at a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ressam also told CSIS agents that he’d been told by Millennium bombing mastermind Samir Ait Mohamed that Charkaoui was seeking to procure arms.

Indeed, CSIS agents allege, Charkaoui was also a prolific fraudster who used credit card scams and petty theft to finance his campaign of what government lawyers call “armed jihadi.”

“On August 4, 2000, RCMP officers following [Charkaoui] witnessed him buying goods with an accomplice in Ottawa with a credit card that had been declared lost or stolen, for a total of $9000, including laptop computers bought at two different stores. [Charkaoui] and his accomplice seemed quite concerned about not being seen together.”

Maclean’s has attempted to contact Charkaoui lawyer Johanne Doyon, to no avail. A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada wouldn’t comment because the matter is before the courts.

In 2010, Charkaoui told the CBC that he moved to sue Canada’s Attorney General’s office after the government failed to apologize for the treatment he suffered. In the lawsuit, the Moroccan native says he is “forever stigmatized in Canada and beyond” and that “thousands of documents available on the Internet associate him with terrorists, meaning his reputation is forever stained.”

Statement of defence of Canada’s Attorney-General in the Charkaoui case

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