Mustafa Krer says that the Canadian intelligence officers who came to Libya to interrogate him while he was in Moammar Gadhafi’s prisons were generally polite but insistent.
“It was always the same – not exactly the same questions, but the same meaning and goal,” recalled Mustafa Krer, a Libyan-Canadian who spent eight years in prison under the ousted Libyan dictator.
“They were trying to convince me I was a terrorist and doing something bad to Canada,” he said, “and that’s not true and never could be true.”
Mr. Krer, speaking by telephone Wednesday from Libya, said he was questioned several times by agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service while serving time as a political prisoner for membership in a group that was trying to overthrow Col. Gadhafi.
His allegations are the first to name CSIS as one of the Western counterterrorism agencies that were given access to prisoners in Libya’s notoriously brutal prisons, where former detainees say they were regularly tortured and beaten.
Human Rights Watch, which described Mr. Krer’s case in a report released this week, said there was no evidence that the U.S., British or Canadian agents who conducted the interrogations mistreated Mr. Krer.
But the group, which has been examining a horde of documents found at the offices of the former Libyan security services, said CSIS and other agencies co-operated with the Gadhafi regime despite established evidence that it tortured the prisoners in its jails.
Mr. Krer, now 46, said he joined a militant anti-Gadhafi movement called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group while studying engineering in the mid-1980s, during a violent crackdown that featured public hangings of suspected dissidents in downtown Tripoli and the university campus in the capital.
He fled to Canada in 1989. There, he supported himself with a series of odd jobs and raised money for the LIFG, which claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Col. Gadhafi in 1996.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the LIFG was blacklisted by the United Nations as an al-Qaeda affiliate, a link that Mr. Krer disputes. But his ties to the group put him squarely on the radar screen of counterterrorism officials.
He returned to Libya in 2002, lured by Col. Gadhafi’s promise to forgive dissidents, but was hauled to prison straight from the airport. A year later, he said, he was interrogated by CSIS agents who had an encyclopedic knowledge of his phone calls and his movements while in Canada.
“I remember they asked me about the people who did 9/11. I didn’t know these people,” he said. “The CIA and CSIS and other agencies were trying to make out that this Libyan Islamic group was like al-Qaeda. It is not. It focused on Libya, just on Libya.”
Mr. Krer was released from prison in 2010. During the anti-Gadhafi revolution, he fled again, this time to Tunisia, fearing he would be rearrested. He returned to his home in Sabratha, about 60 kilometres west of Tripoli, in early September.
A few days ago, he went to Tripoli to visit Abdul Hakim Belhaj, one of the LIFG founders and now the top rebel military commander in the capital. The two men were cellmates on and off in Libyan prisons.
He learned that one of his former prison guards was in rebel custody. “So I went there and I shook hands with the guy and told him, ‘See how times have changed,’” Mr. Krer said.
He said he has nothing but affection for Canada and no passion for revenge against his one-time torturers. “You see, our revolution now is not like the Gadhafi regime,” he said. “We are trying to build a good country, based on reconciliation. If we do the same as them – if we torture, kill or harass people – we will only be copying what was before us.”