Terror suspect says he lost 18,000 dollars at casinoposted on November 03, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink
Accused terrorist Mohamed Harkat says his gambling addiction was so serious that he once lost 18,000 dollars at the Casino du Lac-Leamy and had himself banned from the facility. His admission came yesterday as government lawyer James Mathieson questioned him about the circumstances surrounding an 18,000 dollar loan he received from a friend in Peshawar, Pakistan, identified only as Mokhtar.The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) raised questions about that loan during interviews its agents conducted with Mr. Harkat in 1997 and 1998. Although CSIS has made no specific allegation about the money, it appears the agency suspects it came from a terrorist financier.
Mr. Mathieson yesterday asked Mr. Harkat what happened to that money.
"I blew it at the casino," Mr. Harkat testified. He had previously told court that his gambling addiction was such that he twice had himself banned from the casino.
Mr. Mathieson asked whether he told his Pakistani benefactor, Mokhtar, that the money had been gambled away.
"I wanted to tell him," Mr. Harkat said, "but I wanted to make money first."
Then, before he could inform Mokhtar of his misadventures at the casino, his house was broken into, Mr. Harkat said, and his personal documents --including his only contact information for Mokhtar -- were stolen. Police reports confirm Mr. Harkat's home was burglarized.
Mr. Harkat's testimony came on his second day in the witness stand before Federal Court Justice Eleanor Dawson, who must decide if the security certificate issued against him is reasonable.
That certificate, signed by two federal ministers in December 2002, alleges he is a member of al-Qaeda. He can be deported to his native Algeria if the certificate is upheld.
Mr. Harkat, 36, who came to Canada in September 1995 and declared himself a political refugee, has repeatedly denied any connection to the terrorist network.
But the Ottawa pizza delivery man and gas station attendant quickly gained the attention of CSIS. He was interviewed at least five times by the agency in the years before he was arrested and detained as a threat to national security.
In one of those interviews, according to a CSIS brief filed with the Federal Court, Mr. Harkat told his interrogators the 18,000 dollars had come from another man, Wael. In that interview, CSIS agents showed Mr. Harkat a picture of a man the agency knew as Mohamed Aissa Triki. Mr. Harkat identified the man as Wael. (Nothing in the public court record sheds light on Mr. Triki's past.)
But Mr. Harkat insisted yesterday that CSIS had misunderstood him and that the loan had in fact come from his Pakistani friend, Mokhtar.
Mr. Harkat admitted, however, to lying to the security agency twice in the course of other interviews.
Mr. Harkat told court that CSIS asked him questions about a taxi driver, Thaer, whom he had met in Pakistan and later befriended in Ottawa. Mr. Harkat told CSIS he didn't know the man's last name.
He lied, Mr. Harkat said, at the request of Thaer, who had asked that his name not be mentioned to CSIS.
Mr. Harkat also admitted yesterday to using the name Abu Muslim while living in Pakistan between 1990 and 1995, even though he had previously denied to CSIS that he had ever used the alias. It was a name, he explained in court, that had been given to him by a co-worker at the Muslim World League in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Saudi-based charity, suspected by some western intelligence agencies of financing terrorism, employed Mr. Harkat as a warehouse supervisor.
All employees at the Muslim World League had to have nicknames, Mr. Harkat explained, because so many of them were named "Mohamed." Mr. Harkat told court he withheld information about his alias from CSIS because he was unsure what the agency would do with it. "I was scared and I thought they were looking for somebody else," he said.
In its court brief, CSIS maintains Mr. Harkat lied about the use of an alias "in part, to distance himself from being associated with individuals or groups who may have participated in the bin Laden network."
Mr. Mathieson's cross-examination of Mr. Harkat focused on the inconsistencies between his statements to CSIS and his court testimony.
But Mr. Harkat's lawyer, Matt Webber, objected to that approach, arguing to Judge Dawson that it was unfair, since the CSIS transcripts were incomplete. What's more, he said, Mr. Harkat obviously had difficulty dealing with questions in English as CSIS did not always have a translator for its interviews.
Judge Dawson said that in weighing Mr. Harkat's evidence, she would not give the same weight to his inconsistencies as she would in a criminal trial.
CSIS claims Mr. Harkat travelled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s and developed an association with Abu Zubaydah, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants. According to CSIS, Mr. Zubaydah has identified Mr. Harkat "by description and activity" as operating a guest house in Peshawar, Pakistan, for mujahedeen travelling to Chechnya.
Mr. Harkat has denied those allegations, but was not questioned on them yesterday during a two-hour cross-examination.
Mr. Harkat's wife, Sophie, hugged her husband and spoke a few words to him at the end of his testimony. "I told him he did fabulous and that we are very, very proud of him," she said.
The hearing into the reasonableness of the security certificate issued against Mr. Harkat will resume Dec. 6.
(c) The Ottawa Citizen 2004