The report is chilling: a summary of a conversation intercepted by CSIS recounts two men plotting to blow up a plane flying from Montreal to France.
But with it comes questions. Both men successfully fought long court battles with the Canadian government, over allegations of terrorism links, and Ottawa never persuaded a court such plotting had occurred.
Lawyers for the two men insist the leak of the previously unreported summary to a newspaper this week is a defamatory smear using what was previously described as “unproven” information by a Federal Court judge, suggesting it was intended to undermine efforts of one of them to get his name removed from a no-fly list.
But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argued that those who doubt the government’s pursuit of people alleged to have terrorist ties should be more skeptical about the suspects.
“I read the protected confidential dossiers on such individuals, and I can tell you that, without commenting on any one individual, some of this intelligence makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” he said. “I just think people should be patient and thoughtful and give the government and its agencies the benefit of the doubt.”
The Montreal newspaper La Presse this week reported on a summary of an intercepted conversation in the summer of 2000 in which two men, Adil Charkaoui and Abousfian Abdelrazik, appear to discuss ways to blow up a passenger flight from Montreal. CSIS would not confirm the authenticity of the document, a four-page 2004 report to Transport Canada security officials, but asked La Presse to withhold the name of agents named in it, the newspaper reported.
The summary quotes Mr. Charkaoui as describing how six people could register separately for a flight from Montreal to France, taking different seats; then Mr. Abelrazik saying it would be “a problem” and is dangerous; and Mr. Charkaoui appears to suggest explosives could be planted in a pen in the form of a key-ring. “It’s something very pure, 100 per cent. Throw that in a plane and the whole thing blows up,” Mr. Charkaoui is quoted as saying, according to La Presse.
It’s not clear why, if the recording existed, it would not have been used in secret court hearings against Mr. Charkaoui. CSIS had a policy of destroying recordings and transcripts of intercepted conversations and keeping only summaries until ordered by the Supreme Court to change practices in 2008. Mr. Charkaoui won a six-year battle against detention and house arrest under immigration laws in 2009 after CSIS withdrew evidence rather than provide information that it considered sensitive to back it up.
In the case of Mr. Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen stranded in Sudan for six years before a court ordered the government in 2009 to let him come home, it is the first public report of a specific allegation of terror plotting.
The United Nations released a summary of allegations that he provided “administrative and logistical support” to al-Qaeda. But they were based on his travels, including a claim, which he denies, that he attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and on his association with others, including Millenium bomber Ahmed Ressam, at whose trial he testified.
But La Presse reported that the document it obtained stated that a 2001 search of his car found traces of RDX, an ingredient used in high-tech explosives, as well as summarizing the conversation.
Mr. Abdelrazik’s lawyer, Paul Champ, said a decision is expected soon on efforts to get the United Nations Security Council to remove his client from a no-fly list. “All of a sudden, this document comes out?” he said.
The conversation appears to been aired before, in Mr. Charkaoui’s case.
Mr. Champ and Mr. Charkaoui’s lawyer, Johanne Doyon, say it is the three-person conversation referred to in a 2007 La Presse story about Mr. Charkaoui and a man named Hashim Tahir – an account a judge called “unproven.” That 2007 story cited another secret document that indicated Mr. Charkaoui and Mr. Tahir discussed a plot to blow up a plane flying from Montreal to Europe.
Mr. Charkaoui, a Moroccan-born landed immigrant, was then fighting the security certificate under which he was detained from 2003 to 2005, and kept at home under bail restrictions such as a requirement to wear an electronic-monitoring bracelet, until 2009.
The Federal Court judge in that case, Mr. Justice Simon Noel, responded to the 2007 story by revealing in 2008 that “the court has unproven information concerning Mr. Charkaoui to the effect that, at a meeting in June, 2000, he discussed with two people hijacking a commercial aircraft for violent purposes.”
La Presse did not mention Mr. Tahir in the story published on Friday.
But Mr. Champ said he separately obtained a copy of the document, and it mentions Mr. Tahir. Mr. Charkaoui’s lawyer, Johanne Doyon, insisted it is the same 2007 allegation that Justice Noel referred to as “unproven.”