Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Suleiman may have questioned tortured Canadian Add to ...

Omar Suleiman - spymaster, CIA ally and heir apparent to Egypt's throne - has been accused in the interrogation of a Canadian citizen tortured overseas.

The allegation appears in the federal findings from a former Canadian Supreme Court judge, who faulted Canadian intelligence practices for setting into motion a snowballing series of global investigations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

This led to a huge U.S. interest in pursuing Arab-Canadian citizens who had been branded as al-Qaeda suspects, Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci found. And that, in turn, led to brutal jailings in the Middle East.

The most famous case remains that of Maher Arar, the exonerated engineer since awarded $10-million in compensation by Ottawa.

But the first Canadian held overseas in such circumstances was a Toronto truck driver named Ahmad Abou El Maati. He had spent years fighting with Afghan guerrillas before getting a job driving rigs across the Canada-U.S. border.

Arrested in the Middle East two months after 9/11, Mr. El Maati spent the next two years being passed from interrogator to interrogator. Canadian judges have found his accounts of beatings and electric shocks to be credible.

One of his inquisitors may have been Egypt's top spy. "Mr. El Maati thought that he recognized his interrogator from the news and that he might be Omar Soleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence," the Iacobucci report says, using an alternate spelling of the Egyptian Vice-President's name.

Unlike other interrogations, that session in the spring of 2003 did not involve violence. "A man in plain clothes sat across the desk from Mr. El Maati, asking him questions … the interrogator had a pile of papers in front of him and wrote down the answers Mr. El Maati gave."

At the time, the Canadian prisoner had a sense that others were watching through a one-way window. The Iacobucci findings revealed that Western intelligence agencies - including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service - were closely monitoring what the Egyptians were doing, even passing along questions.

Prior to being promoted to Vice-President two weeks ago, Mr. Suleiman spent more than a decade presiding over an intelligence apparatus frequently condemned for its use of torture. Accounts of his direct involvement in interrogations are rare, but some do exist.

During the 1990s, the spy chief is reputed to have helped the CIA put together its "extraordinary rendition" policy, which has since sent more than 100 individuals suspected of terrorist ties to prisons in Egypt and elsewhere. "Omar Soliman [cct]/note> and Interior Minister al-Adly keep the domestic beasts at bay," reads a 2009 State Department cable that has recently surfaced on WikiLeaks, with yet another spelling of his name.

First arrested in Syria in November, 2001, Mr. El Maati was handed over to Egyptian interrogators a few weeks later.

After two years of detention, he was released. He returned to Toronto, where he is now suing Canadian officials for his ordeal.

The suit suffered a setback last week when the Ontario Court of Appeal supported some state-secrecy procedures surrounding the case.

Federal lawyers argue Canada can't afford to embarrass allies by releasing classified intelligence information. The government has sought to blot out any public mention of the CIA and related agencies.

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular