A terrorism trial in New York has revealed how a fugitive Canadian is alleged to have instructed al-Qaeda recruits in how to fire AK-47 assault rifles, how to lob hand grenades and how to shoot shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.
Recruits who said they passed through an al-Qaeda training camp testified that Ferid “Yousef” Imam, a 31-year-old former University of Manitoba student, was their small-arms instructor when they journeyed to the mountains of northwest Pakistan in 2008.
Their accounts about Mr. Imam – a Canadian citizen at the centre of global manhunt since 2007, as The Globe and Mail first reported – were featured in a trial that ended last week in Brooklyn.
A Bosnian-born American, Adis Medunjanin, 28, was convicted on charges of conspiracy and terrorism in connection with a plot to bomb the New York City subway. Mr. Imam was indicted in the same case and described by the FBI as having helped the plotters acquire their training.
Prosecutors described the plan to attack the New York subway as “one of the most serious threats to the United States since 9/11.” Five alleged co-conspirators in those 2001 attacks appeared before a military commission for the first time on Saturday, as the long process of judging prisoners at the American military prison at Guantanamo finally begins.
In the past 18 months, police in Canada and the United States have issued warrants for Mr. Imam’s arrest, alleging that he joined al-Qaeda to become a training-camp instructor known as “Yousef.” Few details were provided publicly.
In the Brooklyn trial, two witnesses testified that they travelled to Pakistan in 2008 in hopes of helping the Taliban fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But after they met al-Qaeda figures, they said, they were convinced that it would be better to launch attacks on United States soil. The two men – Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay – were close high school friends of Mr. Medunjanin and earlier pleaded guilty in the case.
They said they began their training after being driven to a mountainous camp after staying in a hotel in Miran Shah in North Waziristan, Pakistan.
“There,” testified Mr. Ahmedzay, “was a man who went by the name Yousef . ... He was speaking in English.”
He also described the camp. “The training compound was made out of mud – mud walls. There was a wall surrounding it. It was about 20 feet high. It had a courtyard and a few rooms,” Mr. Ahmedzay said at the trial.
The New York trial testimony established that “Yousef” led training in handguns, AK-47s and grenades at the camp, teaching recruits how to assemble and disassemble weapons, and telling them to learn the names of the weapons in both English and Arabic.
“We had our notebooks,” testified Mr. Zazi. “So any time Yousef would write the parts and the information on each individual gun, we would take notes and we would write it down in our own notebooks.”
At the camp, their daily schedule consisted a morning prayer, followed by a study circle, followed by two phases of hands-on weapons training, according to the testimony.
According to these accounts, “Yousef” was a fair teacher – drawing lots, for example, to determine which of his three American students would get to fire off the one bazooka round that was available in the training camp.
He was also said to break up fights among the Americans when they squabbled.
The same training camp was attended by an important al-Qaeda fugitive known as “Hamad” – allegedly a pseudonym for Adnan El Shukrijumah, an alleged al-Qaeda planner of terrorist attacks and reputed to occasionally travel on a Canadian passport.
The three arrested American al-Qaeda suspects now all face lengthy jail sentences in the United States. And it’s not clear whether any of their trainers are still alive in Pakistan.
A former head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency told The Globe in 2010 that he was briefed about Ferid Imam and the missing Canadians after intelligence exchanges between Ottawa and Washington.
Michael Hayden, the ex-director wouldn’t say whether the CIA – an agency whose drone planes routinely bomb al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan – launched any strikes against the individuals in question. Northwest Pakistan has become an epicentre of CIA strikes against al-Qaeda suspects since 2008.