When the Mounties came knocking one frigid January day in Edmonton, Aisha Rain thought it was a joke. So did her common-law husband. “Is this Candid Camera?” she recalls him asking.
It wasn’t, and her life has never been the same. Police had come that day, one year ago, to arrest her partner. “I remember thinking, like, this can’t be happening,” Ms. Rain says.
At issue was a clash between portraits of two men, worlds apart.
One was Sayfildin (Sayf) Tahir Sharif, 39, the contractor who Ms. Rain, a first nations woman, quickly fell in love with after they met in the summer of 2009. She converted to Islam to be with the man, an Iraqi Kurd who was granted Canadian citizenship in 2005. He became a father figure to her four children. They cooked, lived and prayed together in an Edmonton apartment.
The picket-fence image is at odds with the portrait of Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa, a man the U.S. Department of Justice alleges is a terrorist. The Justice Department alleges that a few months before meeting Ms. Rain, Mr. Sharif helped co-ordinate a suicide bombing attack in Iraq that killed five American soldiers; that he pledged his support for a war on America “1,000,000 per cent;” that he sent terrorists money.
It’s that man, they say, who has been posing under the alias of “Sayf” – Arabic for “sword.”
“I was more in shock, than anything, trying to replay every conversation Sayf and I had, trying to fit what they said about him and what I knew of him. Did the pieces fit together?” Ms. Rain recalls in one of a series of e-mailed statements to The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Sharif has sat in an Edmonton jail since his arrest as the United States attempts to have him extradited to face seven terrorism-related charges in New York state. On Jan. 30, his extradition hearing was delayed until May. If he’s indeed sent south, an overwhelming likelihood in such cases, he’ll spend his life in prison if found guilty – or, potentially, without a trial.
In December, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a new law into effect allowing accused terrorists to be held indefinitely in military prisons if they’re tied to al-Qaeda or related terrorist groups. Justice Canada doesn’t believe it would apply in this case, but some lawyers and observers say that’s simply wrong. The law is, at best, untested and murky, and Mr. Sharif could be held.
Canada doesn’t extradite people if they’ll face the death penalty. Indefinite detention, however, is new ground. And the only thing standing between Mr. Sharif and that possible fate under an unproven law is a brief extradition hearing and the chance of potential intervention, however slim, by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who signs off on all extraditions.
“Holding someone in custody without trial for an indeterminate length is unconscionable and an affront to basic democratic principles,” Mr. Sharif’s lawyer, Bob Aloneissi, said. He sees it as a fundamental question of justice – the extensive evidence against his client notwithstanding.
It was clear the dump truck didn’t belong. With white bags piled in the back, it sped along the streets of the volatile city of Mosul, Iraq, breaking through a U.S. military convoy before hitting a wall and exploding.
The damage was catastrophic, the truck “almost completely disintegrated,” one soldier recalled. Two Iraqi policemen and five American soldiers died.
Among them was Corporal Jason Pautsch, 20, a devout Christian with a trademark phrase: “All the pretend Gods want you to die for them, but instead Jesus died for you.” His family coped through faith.
“The advantage I had from the beginning is I knew I hadn’t lost Jason. I didn’t go to the lost and found looking for him because I knew he wasn’t lost. He was in heaven,” his father David, an advertising entrepreneur, said from Davenport, Iowa. “I kind of envy him.”
An arrest was welcome news to the elder Mr. Pautsch, but not for the reason one might think. He bears no ill-will toward whomever is found guilty of co-ordinating the attack.
Instead, he wants to meet that person.
“I’d like to talk to him privately and personally. Number one, I’d like to tell him I forgive him. Number two, I’d like to tell him he doesn’t have to go around murdering people to get into heaven. Jesus paid the price for him. Give it up, man,” Mr. Pautsch said.
The case against Mr. Sharif is comprehensive, alleging he spent years using code words and a network of contacts to help co-ordinate at least two attacks as part of a terrorist cell that U.S. documents allege had loose connections to al-Qaeda. He allegedly helped four fighters, including the dump-truck driver, make plans and cross the border into Iraq.
Based on extensive wire taps, Americans allege Mr. Sharif spoke with “farmers,” meaning suicide bombers who “plant metal and harvest metal and flesh.” He allegedly reminded bombers to delete everything on their computers, wired $700 to a co-conspirator in Mosul, Iraq from Toronto, and urged his family to “donate to the brother farmers.” He allegedly told his sister in Iraq to “go learn about weapons and go attack the police and Americans. Let it be that you die.” He felt it a duty, U.S. officials charge, for every Muslim in Iraq to fight the American “invaders.”
Remaining in Canada will be an uphill battle, said Dennis Edney, an Edmonton-based lawyer who last year won the fight to block the extradition of his client Abdullah Khadr, Omar Khadr’s brother. “Many Charter challenges that would normally be available to the suspect in a Canadian criminal process are simply not available in the extradition process,” he said.
The Minister of Justice can refuse to extradite on several grounds, but that appears unlikely. Ottawa lawyers battled hard on Washington’s behalf to extradite the elder Mr. Khadr until the Supreme Court defeated the final motion two months ago – the only extradition for terrorism charges it has blocked since Sept. 11, 2001.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Justice Minister said the accused won’t face indefinite detention under the new law, known as the National Defence Authorization Act, because he was indicted before it took effect. Others says that’s not the case.
“I definitely think it’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible,” said Andrea Prasow, a Canadian working with Human Rights Watch in Washington. “… If the Defence Department then wanted to say, seize him on the courthouse steps, that’s something they could do. The judge wouldn’t play any role in that.”
Mr. Sharif will indeed face charges in civilian court, but “that’s not the issue,” Mr. Edney said. It’s the military’s role, enabled by the new law, that he sees as problematic.
“The Edmonton suspect has every reason to be concerned,” the veteran lawyer said, adding: “He will simply be outside the law, as a non-combatant under military care, no different than the Guantanamo detainees. He will simply remain in limbo locked away, awaiting trial on the extradition charges forever.”
Cara Rain was an unlikely match for Mr. Sharif. She was Stoney and Cree, raised on a reserve west of Edmonton, but she fell for him, taking the name Aisha and beginning to wear a head scarf.
At an earlier bail hearing, much was made of the couple’s quarrels. When Mr. Sharif was arrested, his bags had been packed. Ms. Rain plays down all this now, saying the arguments often stemmed from misunderstandings – his English was limited.
“Despite all of our arguments, we always started our morning making each other coffee and making breakfast together, for each other,” she said.
Since his arrest, they’ve been stuck in a state of suspension. Ms. Rain has tried to avoid the public eye, but agreed to answer questions from The Globe because she fears no one is fighting for him. She puts his fate in the hands of her faith, but is frustrated by a legal system that could place Mr. Sharif at the whim of harsh American laws.
“I am thinking what a cruel game this has become,” Ms. Rain wrote, later adding: “It seems our people have already hung my love for something he hasn’t even done, and the system is already failing my love. … [He]has now been sitting there doing dead time for something he is ONLY accused of, and I used to be so proud of our judicial system, I used to think we as Canadians were so fair. Now, I am really not thinking so much of it, sadly.”
In the past decade, Canada has received 17 applications, including the pending one for Sayfildin Tahir Sharif, to extradite accused terrorists. The vast majority have gone through, though some take several years.
Other accused terrorists who faced extradition
MEZBAR, Amine: Request received from the Netherlands in 2002. Extradited June 27, 2002. Accused of taking part in failed plot to blow up American embassy in Paris. Acquitted by three-judge panel.
AL-HADI, Nageeb Abdul Jabar Mohamed: Request received from the United States in 2001. Extradited October 10, 2002. He was accused of travelling with forged documents on the day of the 9/11 attacks.
HAMDANI, Michael: Request received from the United States in 2003. Extradited January 8, 2003. Charged with passport fraud and skipping bail. Later returned to Canada and faced other legal troubles.
REDHA, Mohammad Abdul. Request received from the United States in 2001. “Discharged” on June 23, 2003. No information provided.
EBKE, Lothar “Walter”: Request received from Germany in 2000. Extradited October 30, 2003. Charged with being part of a group that shot a judge and top immigration official in West Berlin in the 1980s and staged an unsuccessful bombing attempt in the city.
PERERA-SALAZAR, Gorka: Request received from Spain in 2001. Extradited in 2005. One of two Basque separatists who fled to Montréal in 1997. They’d been out on bail after admitting to blowing up Spanish ATM - an admission coerced by torture, their lawyer argued.
PLAGARO PEREZ DE ARRILUCEA, Eduardo: Request received from Spain in 2001. Extradited in 2005. One of two Basque separatists who fled to Montréal in 1997. They’d been out on bail after admitting to blowing up Spanish ATM - an admission coerced by torture, their lawyer argued.
MOHAMED, Anwar Farah: Request received from the United States in 2005. Extradited on January 20, 2006.
REUMAYR, Alfred: Request received from the United States in 1999. Extradited April 26, 2006. He had planned to blow up sections of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, and was convicted in 2008.
SCARPITTI, Michael James: Request received from the United States in 2004. Extradited February 29, 2008. The environmental activist had been accused of destroying concrete-mixing trucks and logging trucks, causing $250,000 damage.
OUZGHAR, Abdella: Request received from France in 2003. Extradited June 11, 2009. Was alleged to have trained with terrorist groups in Bosnia and had been found guilty in absentia in a Paris court.
MYLVAGANAM, Ramanan: Request received from the United States in 2006. Extradited September 25, 2009. The accused Tamil Tiger supporter and University of Waterloo student was deported after a joint FBI-RCMP investigation.
KHADR, Abdullah: Request received from the United States in 2005. Judicially stayed by the Supreme Court on November 3, 2011, ending the process. Ottawa fought to extradite Mr. Khadr, whose brother Omar, a fellow Canadian, remains the last Westerner held in Guantanamo Bay. Abdullah Khadr’s extradition was blocked by courts because of his “shocking” treatment by Pakistani authorities, who the U.S. government paid $500,000 to arrest him.
NADARAJAH, Piratheepan: Request received from the United States in 2006. Currently pending before the Supreme Court. One of two men accused of helping the Tamil Tigers buy surface-to-air missiles and AK-47s. They’re appealing, saying labelling political activism as terrorism infringes on their Charter rights.
SRISKANDARAJAH, Suresh: Request received from the United States in 2006. Currently pending before the Supreme Court. Currently pending before the Supreme Court. One of two men accused of helping the Tamil Tigers buy surface-to-air missiles and AK-47s. They’re appealing, saying labelling political activism as terrorism infringes on their Charter rights.
DIAB, Hassan: Request received from France in 2008. Currently pending before Justice Minister Rob Nicholson. A court ruled in June, 2011, that the Ottawa sociology professor should be sent to France to face charges stemming from a 1980 synagogue bombing. It’s now up to the minister.
ISA, Faruq Khalil Muhammad, also known as Sayfildin Tahir Sharif. Request received from the United States in 2011. Extradition hearing scheduled to begin Monday, Jan. 30.
Source: Justice Canada