A cold shudder went through a bustling commercial neighbourhood in Montreal yesterday after disclosures that convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam and an accomplice had targeted the area for a massive bomb.
The neighbourhood around Park and Laurier Avenues, which was pinpointed for the bombing in 1999, lies adjacent to the most visible concentration of Jews in Canada -- a vibrant area of some 5,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews who stand out because of their traditional outfits of black coats and hats for men, long skirts and wigs for women.
Members of the Hasidic community in Outremont responded with shock after hearing that Mr. Ressam and Samir Ait Mohamed wanted to detonate a bomb in the area because it was predominantly Jewish.
The stated choice of explosives -- a bomb on a gasoline truck -- evoked the detonating power of the fuel-laden planes that ripped through the World Trade Center.
"I feel cold," said Alex Werzberger, president of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations. "You don't realize the danger until it comes home.
"Here, they're not going after American might. They're not trying to deliver a political message," he said. "It's 'Let's go out and kill Jews.' And the easiest people to identify are people who look different from everyone else."
The plot would have spread its devastation indiscriminately, since the targeted area is a cosmopolitan mix that is overwhelmingly non-Jewish.
The corner of Park and Laurier Avenues is a busy commercial crossroads, about five minutes from downtown Montreal, with a Starbucks Coffee outlet and several banks. Laurier Avenue itself is a fashionable strip of upscale boutiques frequented by some of the upper-crust of Outremont, whose residents include several former Quebec premiers.
"We have 40 employees at our store. Our business could have been completely destroyed," said Lisa Fortin, an assistant manager at Renaud-Bray, a large bookstore near the corner. "You feel so detached from what's happening on television, but you realize it was actually so close to us.
"I may have crossed these guys on the street."
Still, news about the plot caused the greatest distress among the thriving Hasidic community, which includes dozens of specialized schools, Kosher meat markets, bakeries and synagogues. Some people said it brought the worldwide threat of terrorism terrifyingly close to home.
During the Jewish high holidays in September, with the terrorist attacks in New York fresh in their minds, a group of Hasidic men in Outremont feared for their safety and decided to hire 24-hour guards to patrol their synagogue.
Most of their friends pooh-poohed the precautions. But they weren't scoffing yesterday.
"I laughed [when they hired the guards]" recalled Mr. Werzberger. "But after what I hear today, I'm not laughing any more."
At Glatt's Kosher Meat Products, whose outdoor sign on Laurier Avenue is adorned with a Star of David, brothers Sam and Hersher Weinberger said their sense of worry has increased since the Sept. 11 attacks. They were even more unnerved by the latest revelations.
Sam Weinberger said he has increased security at his factory in recent months. "People say Muslims are all the same," said Mr. Weinberger, who employs three Muslims on his staff of 20. "That's just not true. We're talking about a small group of people who have a grudge.
The deadly plot and what went wrong Court documents released yesterday show the extent of plots hatched in Montreal by Samir Ait Mohamed, Ahmed Ressam and others CANADA July 28, 2001 - Mr. Hohamed is arrested in Vancouver on a deportation order. UNITED STATES Dec. 14, 1999 - Mr. Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles with explosives in his car. Mr. Mohamed is accused of conspiring with Mr. Ressam to bomb Los Angeles airport. UNITED KINGDOM The Montreal terrorist cell planned to establish a fraudulent scheme to channel money to London where it would support Islamic radical fundamentalists. GERMANY Mr. Mohamed tried to obtain Canadian passports for terrorists in Germany so they could come to Canada to help with terrorist operations. AFGHANISTAN Mr. Ressam trained at the Khalden terrorist training camp.
The FBI says Mr. Mohamed believed the Laurier and Park area was a good target after he observed Jewish people walking there.
Ste. Catherine Street was a potential bombing target because it was a heavily commercial street. Bomb equipment constructed at Mr. Ressam's apartment, No. 515, 1250 Rue du Fort.
Samir Ait Mohamed While in Montreal, Mr. Mohamed is alleged to have conspired with Ahmed Ressam in plots, including obtaining blank passports to send to Abu Zubaydah; blowing up a Jewish neighbourhood in Montreal; robbing a currency exchange; and manufacturing a bomb to explode in the Los Angeles airport. Ahmed Ressam Convicted of a failed 1999 plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport, Mr. Ressam was personally screened by Mr. Zubaydah before entering the Khalden training camp in 1998. Abu Zubaydah (Abu Zoubeida) The nom de querre of a crucial bin Laden lieutenant, identified by Mr. Ressam to be in charge of the Afghanistan terrorist training camps Osama bin Laden Frederick W. Humphries II . . . deposes and says the following: 1. I am a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2. The statements made in this affidavit are from my investigation. 3. On April 6, 2001, Ahmed Ressam was convicted by a jury in Los Angeles. 4. During my investigation, I have determined that Samir Ait Mohamed . . . was a close associate of Ahmed Ressam. 5. In October, 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed sent forged Canadian passports and money to . . . individuals in Germany [who]trained with Ressam at the Khalden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. 6. In the summer of 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed and Ahmed Ressam discussed placing explosives in the Outremont suburb of Montreal because it was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. 7. Samir Ait Mohamed suggested to Ahmed Ressam that such an explosive device "should be implanted in a gasoline truck for a larger and more serious explosion." 8. Samir Ait Mohamed knew Ahmed Ressam . . . intended to carry out a terrorist attack around the time of the new millennium, and assisted Ressam toward that end. 9. In February, 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed informed Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Ressam's indicted co-conspirator, that Samir Ait Mohamed could manufacture an explosive device and asked Dahoumane if Dahoumane could then "place" the explosive device. 10. In 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed furnished Ahmed Ressam with a Heckler & Koch stolen 9mm pistol. 11. The tools . . . used by Ahmed Ressam to build four Time and Power Units (TPUs) for use in an explosive device were given to Samir Ait Mohamed by Ahmed Ressam. 12. Samir Ait Mohamed . . . knew Ressam was at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. 13. Samir Ait Mohamed asked Ahmed Ressam for the name of a trusted individual . . . to whom Samir Ait Mohamed could send money to finance armed Islamic aggression within Algeria. 14. On or about December 15, 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed . . . picked up Abdelmajid Dahoumane, and provided him with a newspaper detailing Ahmed Ressam's arrest at Port Angeles, Washington. 15. Samir Ait Mohamed and Mokhtar Haouari were involved in an illegal credit card business. 16. In 1999 . . . Samir Ait Mohamed and Ahmed Ressam . . . attempted to purchase a laptop computer for Pakistan-based Abu Zoubeida . . . Zoubeida is a known collaborator of Osama Bin Laden. 17. In the summer of 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed assisted Ahmed Ressam in obtaining a Visa credit card [which]. . . was then used to purchase components for . . . Ressam's explosive device seized at the time of Ressam's arrest in Port Angeles, Washington. 18. Samir Ait Mohamed, along with Mokhtar Haouari, asked Ahmed Ressam to lease a store . . . to commit fraud. 19. Samir Ait Mohamed . . . Mokhtar Haouari and Said Araar . . . intended to commit fraud, and send a percentage of the proceeds to London to support global acts of armed aggression by Islamic radical fundamentalists. 20. In Canada in 1999, Samir Ait Mohamed attempted to make bomb detonators using acetone. 21. Samir Ait Mohamed expressed to Ahmed Ressam [his]desire to teach the use of explosives at a training camp in Afghanistan. 22. . . . Mokhtar Haouari has been found guilty by a New York jury of conspiracy to support an act of international terrorism along with credit card fraud. 23. Ahmed Ressam solicited the help of Samir Ait Mohamed to obtain genuine Canadian passports from an individual working inside the passport agency. 24. The foregoing statements are true and accurate to my knowledge. Frederick W. Humphries II Special Agent Federal Bureau of Investigation