National Post

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Charkaoui told CSIS about jihad recruiting

2001 Interview

Graeme Hamilton,  National Post  Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Graham Hughes for Canwest News Service

MONTREAL - In a previously undisclosed interview with CSIS investigators, alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Adil Charkaoui described how members of Montreal's Arab community were recruiting people for jihad before 9/11.

"Charkaoui explained that many are called but few are chosen. It's a funnel effect," according to a summary of the April, 2001, interview with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, just added to the court record.

"The person responsible for recruitment attends certain nerve centres, such as mosques. Someone whom the recruiter considers to have potential will be invited to meetings where he will be exposed to certain activities having to do with jihad. The person is tested. If any flaw is detected related to the security that he must respect to participate in jihad activities, he will be expelled from the group immediately."

Nowhere in the interview does Mr. Charkaoui admit to participatingin the recruitment effort, but his comments reveal a depth of knowledge about the goings-on within Montreal's extremist community.

Mr. Charkaoui, a Moroccan citizen who came to Montreal in 1995, was arrested two years after the interview on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda. He has denied any involvement in terrorism and is contesting his removal from Canada on a federal security certificate that declared him a danger to national security. Mr. Charkaoui said he came to know Abdellah Ouzghar, a former Montrealer who is facing extradition to France after being convicted in absentia of terrorism charges, at Montreal's Assunah (or Al Sunnah)mosque.

Mr. Ouzghar attended the mosque regularly and worked at promoting jihad among those attending prayers. "Charkaoui specified that he disagrees with this way of acting," the interview summary says.

"According to Charkaoui, Ouzghar is someone who is very direct in his dealings with others, which explains his tendency to want to convert lots of people all over the place. Charkaoui, for his part, favours a more nuanced and targeted approach." He reported that videos promoting jihad were available for rental at Assunah.

The CSIS investigators spent much of the interview probing Mr. Charkaoui's familiarity with suspected Islamic extremists in Montreal, and he had crossed paths with many of them.

He said he knew Raouf Hannachi from another Montreal mosque, Alqods. Hannachi, who is suspected of having recruited failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, was arrested in Tunisia in 2003 on terrorism charges.

Mr. Charkaoui said he was aware that Abousofian Abdelrazik, who in 2006 would be added to a U.S. list of designated terrorists, worked as a healer in the local Muslim community.

Mr. Charkaoui was also asked about Hisham Tahir, whose name surfaced last year in a La Presse story as someone with whom Mr. Charkaoui had allegedly discussed a plot to highjack a commercial airliner in June, 2000. Last Friday, Federal Court Justice Simon Noel, who is hearing Mr. Charkaoui's security certificate case, ordered La Presse reporters to disclose who leaked the confidential CSIS report at the source of their story.

In the April, 2001, interview, Mr. Charkaoui described Mr. Tahir as "a very good friend." He said, like Mr. Ouzghar, Mr. Tahir had the bad habit of talking too much. "Charkaoui said he had warned Tahir several times not to speak openly about activities related to jihad," the summary says. He declined to confirm to the CSIS agents whether Mr. Tahir had trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

In a previously released CSIS interview, conducted three days after 9/11, "Charkaoui did not want to swear to never having been witness to a conversation dealing with plots to c ommit terrorist attacks, including the possibility of blowing up a plane."

Mr. Charkaoui concluded the April, 2001, interview by accusing Canadian authorities of creating a climate of paranoia among Montreal Arabs. "According to Charkaoui, several individuals from the local extremist movement feel persecuted and watched."

Still, he said he did not believe extremists would attack Canadian targets.

CSIS uncovered the record of the interview just last month. A CSIS official called to testify before Judge Noel this month said it was the result of an "administrative or transcription error" and that the agency would ensure it did not happen again.

Mr. Charkaoui's lawyer, Johanne Doyon, did not return a message seeking comment.