Allegations of terrorism against a man thought to have been an al-Qaeda recruiter were flagged by Canadian officials when he sought to immigrate from Germany in 1998, one year before U.S. investigators say he recruited ringleaders of the 9/11 conspiracy.
Government records obtained by The Globe and Mail indicate Mohamedou Ould Slahi's connections to other Islamic militants raised red flags as far back as February, 1998, as his file was being processed at the Canadian embassy in Bonn.
Despite officials' concern at the time, he was not arrested in Europe or North America. He was cleared for permanent-resident status in Canada, where he arrived at Montreal's Dorval airport in September, 1998.
After being accepted into Quebec's provincially run immigration system, Mr. Slahi lived in an apartment on 22nd Avenue, in a working-class district of Montreal's north end. Not far away, on the same street, lived Al Rauf bin al Habib bin Yousef al-Jiddi, who also has been linked to al-Qaeda.
A report for the U.S. inquiry probing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks described Mr. al-Jiddi this week as a man handpicked by al-Qaeda to help carry out a projected "second wave" of airplane hijacking attacks that was ultimately shelved.
The same report said Mr. Slahi was an al-Qaeda recruiter who had a clear hand in the first wave of attacks. Mr. Slahi is now a prisoner at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Mr. al-Jiddi is a fugitive.
The report said Mr. Slahi met four young Arabs in Hamburg, Germany, and steered them away from their plan to join Muslim militants in the Russian republic of Chechnya. He urged them instead to join al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, the report said.
After doing so and swearing allegiance to Osama bin Laden, three of the men became suicide pilots in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The U.S. report's assertions about Mr. Slahi are based on what its authors say are statements given to interrogators by Ramzi Binalshibh, the fourth man he recruited. Mr. Binalshibh is also jailed at Guantanamo.
Mr. Binalshibh apparently told his questioners that he and the three others met Mr. Slahi in Germany in 1999. That would be several months after Mr. Slahi arrived in Montreal; it is unclear whether he returned to Germany from Canada for the encounter.
Mr. Slahi, now 33, hails from Mauritania, a former French colony and Islamic republic of 2.5 million in northwest Africa, where French is the second most widely spoken language, after Arabic.
There was one big hurdle in his immigration bid: the allegations of links to terrorism. The Canadian records note that consular officials in Bonn flagged them and suggested his application should not be cleared without further investigation.
It remains unclear whether further checks were made.
Immigration Department spokeswoman Maria Iadinardi said Canada thoroughly investigates security concerns noted by immigration officers abroad but said she could not discuss individual files.
Daniel Desharnais, a spokesman for Quebec's Immigration Ministry, said security checks are a federal responsibility.
Nicole Currier, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said authorities had no grounds to arrest Mr. Slahi while he was in Canada.
In December, 1999, shortly before his 29th birthday, Mr. Slahi became a hunted man. Ahmed Ressam, another al-Qaeda-linked North African living in Montreal, was arrested at Port Angeles, Wash., after crossing on the ferry from Victoria, and bomb materials were found in the trunk of his car.
Mr. Ressam later admitted he had planned to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport. Mr. Slahi left Montreal in January, 2000. A CSIS official said later that "the reason for his travel was the heat being placed on him" by Canadian authorities investigating Mr. Ressam.
By March, 2000, Mr. Slahi was back in Mauritania, telling an Associated Press reporter that he had no links to Osama bin Laden or Mr. Ressam. But he did say he had earlier travelled to Afghanistan to support the hard-line Taliban regime.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was arrested and released several times in Mauritania before being handed over to U.S. authorities.