His neighbours in Hamilton thought the married, soft-spoken computer technician very polite. But according to French court documents unsealed yesterday, he is a veteran of the civil war in Bosnia who hung out at a Montreal apartment that served as a base for a terrorist network.
Abdellah Ouzghar, 37, is a Canadian citizen and France wants him extradited. He was tried in absentia last spring in Paris, convicted of supplying false passports to Islamic terrorists and sentenced to five years in prison.
He has no criminal record in Canada. He was first investigated three years ago and was under watch by the RCMP until days before his arrest last week, documents unsealed yesterday show.
He appeared briefly in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto, where Mr. Justice Archie Campbell released documents submitted in the extradition request.
One of the documents is the court ruling of the Paris trial, which described Mr. Ouzghar as a man who procured bogus passports for terrorism suspects, made remarks rationalizing jihad (holy war) and owned a videocassette about Muslim volunteers fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya.
Mr. Ouzghar's lawyer, Rocco Galati, said his client had no idea before his arrest Friday night that he was wanted in France.
"I find it shocking that he's been living in Canada under his real name since 1995 and France couldn't find him before now."
Justice Department lawyer Howard Piafsky said the French extradition request reached his office Friday. He did not know when France contacted Justice officials.
The Paris ruling says that Mr. Ouzghar was a regular at the Place Malicorne apartment in east-end Montreal, home of several men now either convicted or on trial on terrorists charges.
He came to the attention of French authorities in 1996 during an investigation over whether radical Muslims in Montreal were helping terrorists in Europe.
In October of 1999, France sent Canada a request for mutual legal assistance, and the top French antiterrorism expert, Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, flew to Canada to take testimony from a number of people, including Mr. Ouzghar.
The RCMP in Hamilton also executed a search warrant at Mr. Ouzghar's residence, according to an affidavit that was among the documents unsealed yesterday.
"One of the RCMP officers in Hamilton became personally familiar with Abdellah Ouzghar as a result," the affidavit says.
In August of 2000, France issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Ouzghar. Another arrest warrant was issued in April, after his Paris conviction.
The RCMP affidavit says that its officer kept watch on Mr. Ouzghar right up to the week of his arrest.
It says he is wanted in France for participating from 1996 to 1998 in a terrorist organization based in the mining town of Roubaix, in northern France, as well as in Canada, Bosnia, Belgium and Italy.
The so-called Roubaix group was a radical Muslim gang that in the mid-1990s robbed armoured trucks to support militant Islamic causes.
After a 1996 shootout with police, investigators found on the body of one gang member an electronic organizer with Montreal phone numbers, leading authorities to suspect the existence of a Canadian cell.
Neighbours in Mr. Ouzghar's Hamilton apartment block expressed surprise at his arrest. Sam Taha said Mr. Ouzghar seemed like a normal person. "He was friendly, soft-spoken and very polite."
Mr. Ouzghar will be in court Oct. 22 to set a date for a bail hearing.
In Vancouver, meanwhile, the lawyer for a Lebanese-born Canadian wanted in the United States on charges of supporting a terrorist organization said yesterday that his client is a victim of "the political climate" -- fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
"I can't quite honestly see any other reason for it," David St. Pierre said of the weekend arrest of Ali Adham Amhaz by members of the RCMP's national security investigations section. He noted Mr. Amhaz has known about indictments filed against him in Charlotte, N.C., since last March but had not fled.
At a bail hearing in B.C. yesterday, a publication ban has been placed on proceedings.