A Montreal mosque was viewed by the U.S. military as a hub for Islamist militants, according to newly leaked "secret" intelligence documents from Guantanamo Bay.
The Pentagon's "Matrix of Threat Indicators" lists the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque in Montreal as one of nine global houses of prayer where "known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained."
The military's matrix, which was posted by The New York Times Monday, formalizes some of the intelligence community's long-harboured suspicions about the mosque, where several notorious figures prayed in the late 1990s.
The threat matrix was created in the early days of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to assist U.S. military in assessing prisoners. While any given indicator might be seen as meaningless in isolation, the idea was to put together an overall pattern of activity that might be helpful to interrogators who wanted to determine which Guantanamo Bay prisoners might truly be al-Qaeda operatives.
An imam who works at the Montreal mosque today said the allegations were outlandish and outdated.
"Every Muslim can come to this mosque and pray, there's nothing wrong with that," Imam Sufyan Omar told The Globe and Mail. "It's like a church - do you check someone at the door of the church before they enter to pray? It's for everybody."
Attendance at a particular mosque should never be treated as an indicator of terrorist activity, he argued. "It's irrelevant," he said.
Several figures who passed through the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah in the late 1990s did end up detained in other jurisdictions outside of Canada - including Guantanamo Bay - after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.
The most significant prisoner is named Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who actually served as an imam at the mosque for about a month.
Mr. Slahi's own secret Guantanamo Bay file was posted by the WikiLeaks site on Monday.
The file recounts how Mr. Slahi, who hails from the Northwest African country of Mauritania, is alleged to have taken part in a variety of terrorist plots. He bounced between Europe to North America and Africa in the years prior to 9/11.
"Detainee obtained an immigrant landing visa from the Canadian Government and on 26 November 1999, traveled to Montreal ... and made plans to study electrical engineering at Polytechnic du Montreal, the documents say. ".... While in Montreal, detainee became the imam at the al-Sunnah Mosque during the month of Ramadan, replacing the previous imam, who left for hajj (pilgrimage) to Saudi Arabia."
Mr. Slahi did not last long at the mosque.
In late December 1999, Mounties questioned Mr. Slahi about his links to Ahmed Ressam - the Algerian Montrealer now known as the "Millennium Bomber" who had then just been caught at the Canada-U.S. border with a carload of explosives. The two men are understood to have met one another in the few days between Mr. Slahi's arrival in Canada and Mr. Ressam's arrest at the border.
Mr. Slahi was sent to Guantanamo Bay after being arrested in Mauritania in 2001.
He remains there today. The U.S. has never tried to prosecute Mr. Slahi, who has made credible complaints of extreme mistreatment while he was held in U.S. custody.
A few years ago, Mr. Slahi's lawyers asked him to document the extent of his tainted admissions. "How can I remember uninterrupted interrogation that lasted the last seven years?" he said in a written reply. "That's like asking Charlie Sheen how many women he dated."