Ottawa terror suspect quizzed on fake passport

posted on November 02, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Original author: Canadian Press (CP)
Source CTV News online - CTV.CA
URL: [link]
Date: October 28, 2004

OTTAWA - Mohamed Harkat, an Ottawa man accused of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent, was grilled Thursday about where he got $1,200 US to buy the fake passport he used to enter Canada.

Crown counsel James Mathieson questioned whether Harkat could have saved up a total of $18,000 US working at a charitable organization in Pakistan in the early 1990s.

"That's pretty good money for that part of the world, isn't it?'' Mathieson asked Harkat during the Federal Court of Canada hearing.

The government is trying to deport the 36-year-old Harkat, a refugee from Algeria, under a national security certificate based on information collected by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.CSIS contends Harkat is an Islamic extremist and collaborator with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Harkat acknowledges working in Pakistan from 1990 to 1994 as a supervisor at a Muslim World League warehouse, located between Peshawar and Islamabad, that was set up to help Afghan refugees.

Harkat, who secured the job with help from an acquaintance in Saudi Arabia during a stay there, says he supplied the needy with food, blankets and tents.

CSIS interviewed Harkat several times over the years and claims he was deceptive about his time with the Muslim organization.

The soft-spoken Harkat politely answered hundreds of questions during two days of testimony, sometimes with help from an interpreter.

In cross-examination Thursday, Mathieson asked Harkat why the Muslim World League would hire a young man from another country, instead of Pakistan, to supervise the warehouse.

Harkat indicated the charity did not trust locals to do the job.

The Algerian-born Harkat flew to Toronto in 1995 from Malaysia using a false Saudi Arabian passport, purchased on the black market for $1,200 US, and promptly made a refugee claim.

Settling in Ottawa, he married and worked long weeks as a pizza delivery man and gas station attendant to support his family.

CSIS, which kept an eye on Harkat for five years prior to his December 2002 arrest, argues he supports Afghan, Pakistani and Chechen extremists.

The spy agency claims Abu Zubaydah, one of bin Laden's chief lieutenants, identified Harkat as the operator of a guest house in Pakistan for armed fighters travelling to Chechnya.

Harkat told court this week he has never had dealings with Zubaydah or other members of bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

The Federal Court will either uphold or quash the security certificate. If it is ruled valid, Harkat will be slated for removal from Canada.

However, there is some question as to whether he would be returned to Algeria if there is a chance he could face torture there.

Proceedings adjourned Thursday until Dec. 6.

Many details remain secret, available only to Crown counsel and the court.

"It's Wonderland. It's totally Kafkaesque,'' Paul Copeland, one of Harkat's lawyers, said after the hearing. "The process is a terrible process.''

Copeland conceded he has no idea how strong the federal case is.

"I don't know what the case is about, I don't know what the evidence is,'' he said. "It might be that the evidence is so totally overwhelming on paper that we're just wasting our time here. It might be that the evidence is very shaky on paper.''

Mathieson did not raise many of the most serious accusations against Harkat on Thursday, including the evidence from Zubaydah.

Harkat's wife, Sophie, believes the government is deliberately shielding the case's most controversial aspects from public view.

"I think that's the purpose of the cross-examination,'' she said. "Because if they start asking other questions, then we'll start putting the pieces together.''

Harkat's lawyers argue Zubaydah's statements should be ignored because they were likely extracted by his U.S. captors under torture.

Among the witnesses in December may be Reid Morden, a former CSIS director who once discussed Harkat's arrest with a U.S. newspaper.

© 2004 Bell Globemedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.