Judges differ in their view of jihadist

posted on January 09, 2011 | in Category War on Terror | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy Source: The Ottawa Citizen URL: [link] Date: January 8, 2011 One declared Ibn Khattab a terrorist, the other didn't and, writes Andrew Duffy, that divergence could lead to the deportation of Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat

[PHOTO: CSIS alleges that Mohamed Harkat operated a guest house in Pakistan for Ibn Khattab, shown above. There is conflicting evidence whether Khattab was part of the bin Laden network.] In the Federal Court of Canada, one judge's terrorist is another's jihadist warrior. In two security certificate cases, two federal judges have drawn vastly different conclusions about Ibn Khattab, a Saudi known as "the lion of Chechnya." The judge who upheld the certificate against Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat earlier this month deemed Khattab an al-Qaeda linked terrorist. Last year, however, another judge dismissed the case against Toronto's Hassan Almrei, ruling that Khattab "could not reasonably be said to be part of al-Qaeda." Their conflicting views highlight the complexity of certificate cases, in which judges must often decide hard questions of history.Was Khattab an Islamic terrorist who condoned the killing of Russian civilians? Or was he a brave jihadist who defended Chechen Muslims against Russian aggression?

There is no consensus among historians about which description best fits Khattab, who was killed in March 2002 by a poisoned letter. (The Russian intelligence service is suspected of orchestrating the assassination.) Yet in deciding whether Harkat and Almrei pose a terrorist threat to this country, Canadian judges had to write Khattab's epitaph.

It proved crucial in both cases -- and could now lead to Harkat's deporation.

"It's embarrassing, I would think," he said, "for either the government or the court system that you could have, in a short order of time, on something as important as that -- with the same witnesses -- differences of opinion that result in such a major difference (in outcome)."

Meanwhile, a leading U.S. expert on Khattab who testified in the Harkat and Almrei cases, said he was stunned by Judge Simon Noel's conclusions.

Brian Williams, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth history professor, said the idea that Khattab was part of the bin Laden network is "outlandish."

"I think the judge has really re-interpreted history," Williams said in an interview.

In the Harkat case, Noel rejected the thrust of Williams' testimony, which cast Khattab not as a terrorist, but as a jihadist fighting on behalf of oppressed Muslims.

Noel ruled that Khattab was a terrorist by virtue of his "implicit support" for an allied rebel leader, Shamil Basayev, who embraced terror as part of a campaign to win Chechnya's independence from Russia. The judge also placed Khattab within the bin Laden network, saying he shared ideology, training and money with al-Qaeda.

But Williams said Khattab did not embrace bin Laden's terror campaign against the West and did not launch attacks that targeted civilians.

Khattab's entire career as a jihadist, Williams said, was spent fighting Russians on the battlefield, first in Afghanistan, then in Tajikistan, and finally in Chechnya.

"Bin Laden's enemy was a different enemy: bin Laden's enemy was the U.S., who had bases in Saudi Arabia. Khattab never spoke out against the Americans, or instigated terrorism against the Americans," Williams argued.

Khattab joined the Chechen resistance in 1995, orchestrating a mountain-based guerrilla campaign against the Russians.

Judge Noel said his fighters also "planted the seeds of terrorism" in Chechnya.

Khattab is a critical figure in the Harkat case. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) alleged that Harkat worked for Khattab while in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1994-95. CSIS said Harkat operated a guest house for Khattab and helped move Mujahideen fighters in an out of training camps in Afghanistan.

Noel knit Harkat to al-Qaeda through his association with Khattab, whom he declared a terrorist because of his alliance with Basayev.

The Basayev movement was responsible for mass hostage-takings at a hospital, elementary school and theatre during the Chechen independence struggle.

Said Noel: "While there is no information suggesting that Ibn Khattab himself deliberately targeted civilians, or used them as hostages or shields, his support for Basayev's Chechen movement reveals at least implicit support for such actions."

Last year, Judge Richard Mosley formed a much different opinion of Khattab in dismissing the case against Almrei, who admitted he was once a jihadist.

Almrei told court he met Khattab in Pakistan and twice travelled with him to camps in Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, in 1994 and 1995. Refugees were then flooding into the area to escape the Tajik civil war, which pitted the Russian-backed government against a coalition of reformists and Islamists.

Almrei, 36, testified that he regularly talked with Khattab and came to know him well. He described him as an heroic, devout and considerate man.

Mosley ruled Khattab was not a member of the al-Qaeda network. "Khattab was a warrior," Mosley wrote. "He favoured frontal attacks on the Russians. The information that he was directly involved in terrorist activities in Chechnya is not, in my view, persuasive but there is some information to that effect."

Almrei's jidahist travels to Afghanistan occurred before Osama bin Laden returned there in 1996 from Sudan, the judge noted.

Mosley concluded Almrei's association with Khattab did not make him a danger to the security of Canada.

Almrei, who spent eight years in jail after being arrested in October 2001, is now suing the government for false imprisonment.

Harkat, 42, who came to Canada in October 1995, has been declared a security threat and now faces deportation to his native Algeria, where he says he will be tortured or killed.

In testimony, Harkat denied any association with Khattab despite wiretap evidence of a conversation in which he inquired about Khattab and "his people."

Noel said Harkat's denials were not credible.

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