Harkat admits he lied but denies Al Qaeda link

posted on October 28, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Original author: Michelle Shephard Source: The Toronto Star online URL: [link] (subscribers only) Date: October 28, 2004 CSIS notes contradicted by his testimony Ottawa resident is facing deportation

OTTAWA - An Algerian refugee claimant admits he lied to Canadian security officials but denies any connections to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. Mohamed Harkat, who is facing deportation, yesterday told a federal court about his life in Algeria where he fled political persecution in 1990, his work in Pakistan for a relief organization, and finally his arrival in Canada in 1995. The 36-year-old Ottawa resident was arrested Dec. 10, 2002, after two federal ministers signed a national security certificate based on information gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that alleges he is connected to prominent terrorist figures and is a threat to Canada's security. Lawyer Matthew Webber began and ended his questioning by asking Harkat if he had ever aided Islamic extremists, travelled to Afghanistan, knew bin Laden or associated with Abu Zabaydah, who is believed to be a high-ranking Al Qaeda agent now in U.S. custody. Harkat responded, "No, sir" to each question.He spoke quietly, forcing the judge to call a break at one point so officials could install a microphone and speakers in the courtroom.

Guarded by Mounties but not handcuffed, Harkat testified yesterday that he worked 90-hours a week at part-time jobs delivering pizzas and as a gas station attendant in Ottawa.

The court heard that CSIS agents had questioned Harkat on five separate occasions before his arrest, the most recent meeting just three days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Although the meetings were not recorded, CSIS briefing notes were submitted to the court and outline Harkat's answers, some of which were contradicted by his testimony.

He said yesterday that when agents asked him if he had ever been known by the name Abu Muslim, Harkat believed the agents were confusing him with someone else, so he denied knowing that name.

But during his time working at the Muslim World League in Pakistan, helping transport supplies to the nearly 100,000 Afghan refugees living in the area at the time, he was known by the nickname Abu Muslim.

While the Saudi-based Muslim World League is still a recognized charitable organization in Canada, a 1996 CIA report, listed the International Islamic Relief Organization, which is affiliated with the Muslim World League, as a front for terrorist fundraising.

Harkat also admitted yesterday that he lied to agents about knowing an Ottawa taxi driver who he had befriended when he moved to Canada. He said he was honouring his friend's request to not mention his name during questioning by CSIS agents.

Also listed in the public documents is Harkat's association with Ahmed Said Khadr, who died in Pakistan a year ago in a battle with security forces. Khadr was accused of being Canada's highest-ranking Al Qaeda member and a suspected financier for the group.

Harkat said yesterday that his former roommate once drove him from Ottawa to Toronto for a meeting with immigration officials, and Khadr was a passenger.

It was the first, and only time he met with the Egyptian-Canadian, he testified.

Private evidence has been given to Justice Eleanor Dawson on the grounds that it would reveal sources, or jeopardize security or international relations, but from what is known publicly about the case, the claim that Abu Zubaydah identified Harkat while in U.S. custody appears crucial.

Harkat's lawyers argued earlier this week that this evidence could not be deemed credible since it may have been obtained under torture and entered documents outlining questionable American tactics and injuries that Zubaydah (spelled Zubaida in CSIS documents) sustained when captured.

The hearing continues today with Harkat's cross-examination.

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