It is the map of Ottawa -- with clearly marked federal nuclear facilities, a virus lab and other supposed terrorist targets -- that fuelled an international panic and played into a chain of Middle East detentions of Canadians citizens.
The map was of huge interest to U.S. border guards, who grilled Canadian truck driver Ahmad El Maati for hours about it. So, too, did interrogators in Syria and Egypt, where Mr. El Maati says he was tortured and repeatedly asked about the map's provenance.
The Globe and Mail has learned that the map -- scrawled numbers and all -- was in fact produced and distributed by the Canadian federal government. It is simply a site map, given out to help visitors to Tunney's Pasture, a sprawling complex of government buildings in Ottawa, find their way around.
"All my problems started with that map," says Mr. El Maati, who was interrogated about the document while held in filthy prisons in Syria and Egypt, where he says he was tortured to extract information for Canadian authorities.
There is nothing secret about the map. The existence of the nuclear facilities and the virus labs at Tunney's Pasture was never a secret.
Moreover, they were gone from Tunney's Pasture long before the map aroused the suspicions of U.S. customs agents when they stopped Mr. El Maati's truck at the border at Buffalo in August of 2001.
Yet in the past four years, the "terrorist map" has taken on almost mythic qualities. It has figured in various leaked accounts describing thwarted al-Qaeda plots to blow up targets in Ottawa, including the Parliament Buildings and the U.S. embassy.
Mr. El Maati, 40, says his torturers in Syria and Egypt used the map as the basis of their interrogations. He says this suggests the Syrians were fed information from Canada and that Canadian authorities were complicit in his torture. He's never been charged anywhere, despite more than two years in detention in the Middle East.
Mr. El Maati's lawyers made a copy of the map available to The Globe. The RCMP has the original.
At first glance, it's a curious document. Buildings are numbered from 1 to 23. The Health Canada virus lab is 10. The Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. building is 20.
Other areas are marked with four-digit numbers, like 1087.
But visit Tunney's Pasture and the mystery is solved: The government has marked the buildings with these numbers to help visitors find their way around. The four-digit designations refer to the area's parking lots. Public servants need a sticker for Lot 1087 to park there.
"I haven't seen one of those in a long time," a commissionaire at building No. 8 told a Globe reporter who showed up last Thursday with a copy of the map, looking for the virus lab and the nuclear building.
"That's an old map. Those buildings are gone."
She had a stack of more recent maps of Tunney's Pasture to help visitors to the complex. She happily handed out a copy, noting the lab and the nuclear building are now parking lots.
The visitor got the same friendly co-operation and copies of newer maps from commissionaires at the next four buildings as well.
The Department of Public Works and Government Services, the agency that produces site maps like this, could not immediately determine just when the map used in Mr. El Maati's interrogation was drawn.
But it most certainly was drawn well before Aug. 16, 2001, the date Mr. El Maati and his truck were stopped at the border in Buffalo.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. moved its facility from Tunney's Pasture to the Ottawa suburb of Kanata in September of 2000. The Heath Canada virus lab was gone by December of 1999.
Even now, there aren't many obvious terrorist targets at Tunney's Pasture. The most imposing structure is the main building for Statistics Canada. Health Canada has an environmental centre and a building for breeding lab animals. Other buildings store government personnel and financial records.
The Department of National Defence has a computer centre there. It is the only building on the campus behind a chain-link security fence, topped with barbed wire.
Parliament Hill and the U.S. embassy aren't anywhere near Tunney's Pasture. They are about five kilometres to the east.
The RCMP doesn't want to talk about the map or its involvement in Mr. El Maati's ordeal in the Middle East.
"It would be inappropriate to speak to any specific case," Staff Sergeant Paul Marsh, the RCMP spokesman, said last week.
Ahmad El Maati, a Kuwaiti-born Canadian, had made hundreds of deliveries to the United States for his employer, Highland Transport of Markham, Ont., before Aug. 16, 2001. He wasn't driving his usual rig that day. His own truck was in a shop in Montreal for repairs.
Highland assigned him a different vehicle, a truck that had been driven previously by an Ottawa-based employee who had made deliveries in the capital region, according to Ann Armstrong, a manager at Highland.
Mr. El Maati says that when he got into the replacement truck, he found papers, maps and reading glasses that he assumed belonged to a previous driver. He put them into a drawer in the driver's sleeping cabin and forgot about them.
He was on a run to Philadelphia with a load of old batteries for recycling when U.S. customs pulled him over for what he thought would be a routine inspection.
The inspector found the map and gave it a close look. "H&W Virus Labs" was the building to the north. "Atomic Energy of Can." was to the west. Where was this place?
Mr. El Maati, who hardly knows Ottawa, says he couldn't provide an answer. The questioning continued. The U.S. officials took his fingerprints, photographed him, took a retina scan. They photocopied the map and returned the original. He says that after eight hours, they sent him on his way with a warning that he might have problems crossing the border in the future.
This was Mr. El Maati's first major encounter with law-enforcement authorities anywhere, he says, and it rattled him. "This is how I made my living. What was I going to do?"
When he got home to Toronto, Mr. El Maati says he talked with his father, Badr, a retired accountant. They decided they couldn't simply ignore what had happened. Together they went to Highland Transport and reported the border incident to Ms. Armstrong, the manager in charge of hiring and training.
She wrote a report on company letterhead for the record and gave Mr. El Maati a copy. It contained details of the incident as he related them and noted that two other drivers had recently used the truck. ". . . It would be very difficult to determine who the map belonged to and why they had it as many drivers keep such items. The last driver of this truck terminated with Highland in July 2001," she wrote.
She concluded the letter commending Mr. El Maati for his polite and professional conduct while being questioned by U.S. customs.
The ownership of the map has never been established.
Highland Transport vice-president Geoff Scott declined to name the previous rig driver, citing privacy reasons.
However, Mr. Scott remembered the controversy that the map caused nearly four years ago. He was at a loss for any explanation. "We don't do deliveries to any government buildings."
Greg Bursey, a man who worked closely with Mr. El-Maati, said in an interview a year ago that the map incident rattled the driver severely. "He showed me the map. And the map had literally all kinds of government installations.
"If I was a border person and I saw this map with a Middle Eastern-looking person and all these nuclear sites and all these government installations, I can understand why they said, 'Well, hey pal, what are you doing? ' And apparently they really grilled him. When he came to me, he was nearly in tears he was shaken up so bad about it."
In an interview last week, Mr. Bursey elaborated, saying that both the Ontario Provincial Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service came around after 9/11 to ask about the map. "They came and interviewed us to ask us about how long he was with us, why he would have had this particular document for his work, is it something we would have furnished him with."
If it's just a generic document, "why was there so much interest?" Mr. Bursey asks. "I'm so sorry for that poor s.o.b."
Looking back on his long ordeal, Mr. El Maati recognizes that Canadian and U.S. authorities might have had more than one reason to want to talk to him in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks in the United States.
He took flying lessons at Buttonville airport near Toronto before giving up because, he says, he was too frightened to handle the stick.
He had served as an ambulance and truck driver with a mujahedeen militia in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He says it was an Islamic duty.
But it always came back to the map. The Los Angeles Times was the first news organization to report its existence. In a lengthy article published one month after the 9/11 attacks, the newspaper reported on a variety of leads being pursued by authorities. The article contained a one-sentence reference to Canada, attributed to FBI sources. "In Canada, U.S. agents were briefed on a 36-year-old Kuwaiti man in whose belongings were discovered documents that identified specific buildings in an Ottawa government complex -- notably the atomic energy building and the virus and disease control labs."
Canadian news media could not get independent corroboration from the RCMP or other Canadian sources. The Globe and Mail ran a front-page account the following day, attributing the information to the Los Angeles Times and adding the observation that "the discovery of the documents detailing the Ottawa buildings adds weight to growing concerns that Canada may have been targeted by terrorists."
The Globe account was then picked up by The Canadian Press wire service.
Mr. El Maati was at home watching a TV news station when he saw the news ticker crawl across the bottom of the screen with the report of a 36-year-old Kuwaiti man with documents about sensitive Ottawa sites. He is not a Kuwaiti citizen, but was born there. But he was 36 at the time and enough of the other information led him to believe the account was about him.
"I thought, 'Oh my God! That's about me! There is some mistake. We have to clear this up.' "
He retained Rocco Galati as his lawyer to set up a meeting with CSIS. But CSIS wouldn't sit down with Mr. El Maati with a lawyer present, Mr. Galati said.
"How seriously are we supposed to take these people when they consistently refuse to speak to people who they say they are interested in speaking to, if those people want a witness or a lawyer to ensure accuracy of statements? "
Mr. Galati had a better relationship with RCMP officers whom he met with in December of 2001. He gave them a copy of the map, saying his client had nothing to hide.
By then, Mr. El Maati was already being detained in the Middle East.
Mr. El Maati had gone to Damascus for his own wedding, but was arrested by Syrian military intelligence and tortured. He says that in an effort to end his ordeal, he concocted a story about how he planned to drive a truck full of explosives into a target in Ottawa.
The Syrians suggested that he "confess" that the intended target was the U.S. embassy, but, fearing imprisonment in the United States, Mr. El Maati says he told his torturers that his target was the Parliament Buildings.
The Syrians transferred him to Egypt in early 2002, where he says he was again tortured.
In one bizarre interrogation session, he was asked to identify an image on a TV screen. It was part of a map but the picture was too blurry for Mr. El Maati to make out. A paper copy of the map was then brought in for Mr. El Maati to identify. He again related how he had found the map in the truck. In 2003, American award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker that "by early 2002 Syria had emerged as one of the C.I.A.'s most effective intelligence allies in the fight against Al Qaeda."
He added that "the Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa." The National Post ran a similar account, specifying the target was the U.S. embassy.
Canadian officials were sent scurrying to react to these accounts. Then-foreign-affairs minister Bill Graham and other officials said these plots were news to them. RCMP Inspector André Guertin said if there ever was a plot to bomb the embassy "we would know."
Mr. El Maati's thoughts often return to the day in Egypt when the interrogators confronted him with the Tunney's Pasture parking map.
"I knew it came somehow from Canada," he says. "I felt betrayed. It's obvious."