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Hiva Alizadeh: Hard worker felt he could never get ahead

Hiva Alizadeh

Courtroom sketch by Dave Clendinin

After being turned down for yet another job, Hiva Alizadeh always turned back to a more familiar scene - one with bright, domed mosques and towering minarets.

Winnipeg's Halal Meat Centre, with its specialty cuts and colourful mural depicting an Arabian street scene, was like an oasis for a hard-working young man who felt he could never get ahead in his adopted city.

"He had trouble finding work elsewhere because they all told him he needed to speak English better," said Yusuf Abdul Rehman, the owner of the meat shop and former employer of the man alleged to have been the mastermind of a plot to bomb targets in Canada and abroad.

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Of the three men who were arrested by the RCMP's Integrated National Security Unit this week, Mr. Alizadeh, 30, faces the most charges; all three have been charged with facilitating terrorism, but Mr. Alizadeh is also accused of financing a terrorist plot and possessing explosives with intent to kill and injure.

But a year and a half ago, when he was still in the meat shop stocking kufis - Muslim skull caps - and naan bread, no one would have predicted such allegations, the shop owner said.

"I never smelled anything wrong he may have been doing," said Mr. Abdul Rehman. The shop owner said Mr. Alizadeh worked such long hours - open to close, seven days a week - he couldn't imagine him having time to do anything else.

It has been at least seven years since Mr. Alizadeh came to Winnipeg. He immigrated from Iran, one of the Persian country's minority Sunni Muslims, to live with an uncle, a Winnipeg cab driver, Mr. Abdul Rehman said. According to the authorities, part of the bomb plot took part in Iran, and the authorities have identified someone outside of Canada with the same last name - Rizgar Alizadeh - as an unindicted co-conspirator.

After his arrival in Winnipeg, Hiva Alizadeh married a local girl, who was a convert to Islam, said Idris Elbakri, president of the Manitoba Islamic Association. The couple have two children. In 2003, Mr. Alizadeh began studying English as an additional language at Red River College, but dropped out. That trend continued in 2008, when he quit a 3 1/2-year electrical engineering program at the college after one semester.

The engineering program would not have served anyone well for orchestrating a bombing operation, said Colin Fast, a spokesman for the college. "It was elementary level, fundamental stuff," Mr. Fast said, adding that much of Mr. Alizadeh's time would have been spent on introductory sciences.

About a year and a half ago, Mr. Alizadeh's uncle moved to Ottawa, and his nephew decided to join him with his young family. When the police swooped in on him on Wednesday morning, he was living in a high-rise apartment in the west-end neighbourhood known as Bayshore, an area dense with new Canadians and lower-income housing. Police say they recovered 50 circuit boards designed for remote detonations in their raids.

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At least one resident of Mr. Alizadeh's building was flummoxed by the alleged discovery.

"They're nice people," said the resident, who declined to give her name. "They were my friends."

People looking for answers about the allegations won't likely find any in Winnipeg's mosques, Mr. Elbakri said. "I think I can comfortably say all the Friday sermons are very moderate. There's nowhere within [Winnipeg's]established organizations where you can go to get that indoctrination."

With a report from Colin Freeze

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National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

National reporter

Greg has been a reporter with The Globe since 2005. He has probed a wide variety of topics, including police malfeasance, corruption and international corporate bribery. He was written extensively about the Airbus affair, offshore tax evasion and, most recently, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his criminal ties. More

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