Canadians' ties with Chechen insurgents probed

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

UPDATED AT 12:34 AM EDT Saturday, Oct 16, 2004


CSIS and other intelligence services are to trying to piece together whether Canadians are joining insurgents fighting against Russia, after several Canadian men have turned up dead, captured or missing in Chechnya or Azerbaijan.

A B.C. lawyer said yesterday that Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents have recently visited the family home of a man whom the Russians said they killed last week. CSIS asked about possible links to militant groups, according to the family's lawyer, Phil Rankin.

The family of Rudwan Khalil Abubaker, 26, denies any links to extremism and is skeptical about the Russian claim that Mr. Abubaker was a dangerous expert in explosives fighting against soldiers in Chechnya.

"He's a hip-hop dancer and a male model," said Mr. Rankin, who added that family members say the young man was also a movie extra who had just obtained an information-technology certificate at Vancouver Community College.

Much remains unknown and Canadian authorities have yet to see Mr. Abubaker's body. Even before he left Canada, his life story spanned many countries — he was an Eritrean born in Sudan, and came to Canada as a child refugee with his mother and three siblings. This past summer, he left Canada to visit his father, who lives in Saudi Arabia, according to Mr. Rankin.

From there, Mr. Abubaker travelled to see a cousin in Dubai, and was due back in August, but called his family to say he wanted to open a hip-hop shop in the region, Mr. Rankin said. He told his cousin he would be travelling to Russia for a holiday.

Mr. Rankin said that two of the man's friends from British Columbia have also gone missing while abroad in recent weeks, after they all told family members that were going to meet up in Azerbaijan to attend a wedding.

The lawyer said that for much of his travels, Mr. Abubaker was accompanied by a Moroccan-Canadian friend. News reports have identified that man as Kamal Elbahja of Maple Ridge. Mr. Rankin said the two had hoped to see another B.C. friend, Azer Tagiev, in Azerbaijan.

Last week, the Russians held up Mr. Abubaker's passport and driver's licence, presenting them as trophy-like evidence of their slaying of a Canadian militant in Chechnya. (The Canadian documents mistakenly omitted his last name, which Mr. Rankin said all family members use.) The Russians have been presenting their decade-long conflict in Chechnya as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Moscow, however, has been accused of perpetrating atrocities against Chechen civilians and accounts of Russian brutality have outraged many Muslims.

Chechen insurgency groups range from those who killed hundreds of children in Beslan in September to more moderate militants. Azerbaijan has long been a transit route for militants and the U.S. 9/11 Commission recently identified the country as a place where al-Qaeda has long had a foothold.

Terrorism suspects from Canada have passed through Azerbaijan before. In 1998, an Egyptian refugee claimant once represented by Mr. Rankin in Vancouver turned up in Azerbaijan and was deported to Egypt. Essam Marzouk remains in jail as a suspected al-Qaeda member.

It is unknown whether that case relates to testimony heard in a Montreal court this summer. Abdurahman Khadr, 21, told the court that Amer Abou El-Maati, a prominent al-Qaeda fugitive from Montreal, gave his Canadian passport to a mysterious operative named "Idriss."

According to Mr. Khadr, who has renounced al-Qaeda but has spoken publicly about his family's links to top terrorists, Idriss used the passport to enter Azerbaijan, where he tried but failed to blow up the U.S. embassy in the capital Baku in 1998. However, Idriss was uncovered and sent to Egypt, according to Mr. Khadr, who was giving the testimony to help out a Montrealer he believed to be wrongly jailed as a terrorism suspect.

In another case two years ago, a Canadian citizen was captured in Azerbaijan and sent to Egypt, where he remains in jail as a suspected militant. Egyptian interrogators questioned Abdel-Rahman Fakhry Ahmed Aboul-Ella about possible militant travels to Chechnya, according to family members.

The man's brother, Ahmed, told The Globe in a telephone interview from Cairo this week that Canada has to do more to free his 24-year-old brother, who he says was simply travelling to teach people about Islam.

"They [the Egyptians] asked him here, 'maybe you have been to Chechnya?' and stuff like that, but this was not his aim at all," Ahmed said. "His aim was to help Muslims ..... to teach them enough knowledge about Islam."

 Bell Globemedia
 © 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.