Accused terrorist denies CSIS allegation he may have been planning airline attack

OTTAWA - A Montreal man accused of terrorist ties displayed secretive and violent behaviour and once discussed comandeering a commercial aircraft for "aggressive ends," Canada's spy service alleges.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service charges against Moroccan-born Adil Charkaoui came late Friday as the federal government renewed its efforts to deport five Muslim men with alleged terrorist links.

Charkaoui swiftly denied the latest accusations, calling them unproven fragments of information based on hearsay.

In a statement, a coalition of Charkaoui's supporters said he wants "a meaningful opportunity to clear his name of precise and defined charges in the context of a fair and open trial."

Ottawa filed updated national security certificates against Charkaoui and four other men - including some fresh assertions - following recent passage of new legislation.

The reworked law creates special advocates to defend the interests of suspected terrorists and spies tagged for deportation under the controversial security certificate process.

The change is intended to bring the process for dealing with foreign-born people deemed to be threats to national security in line with the Charter of Rights, after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional last year.

Facing removal from Canada are Charkaoui, Mohamed Harkat, Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei, all five of whom have been fighting to remain in the country.

The government did not file a new certificate against a sixth man, Manickavasagam Suresh, accused of membership in the Tamil Tigers. It was not immediately clear what would become of his case.

Charkaoui, a landed immigrant from coastal town near Casablanca, was arrested in Montreal in May 2003, accused of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent prepared to wage terror attacks against western targets.

He denies involvement in terrorism.

CSIS claims convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam has identified Charkaoui as being present at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.

The newly filed documents say that in November 2001, Charkaoui described the war in Afghanistan as a battle against Islam "led by the wicked and the Crusaders."

In June 2000, Charkaoui allegedly had a conversation with two others about their apparent desire to take control of a commercial plane for aggressive purposes.

The CSIS papers say he once applied to work in the air traffic control operations at Air Canada and, later, had an interest in working in the baggage section of Mirabel airport near Montreal.

The spy service suggests the job search, taken in connection with the earlier conversation, may have been part of the "planning of an attack."

The documents allege Charkaoui has shown violent and impulsive behaviour, once beating up a delivery man. And they say in 1999 he discussed car theft, namely that he had contacts in Morocco interested in luxury vehicles.

CSIS also says that on several occasions Charkaoui stressed the need for secrecy, once cautioning an associate to "speak only in generalities."

The accusations related to hijacking were previously leaked to the media and are now the subject of court proceedings in which journalists are being pressed to reveal the source of the information.

Charkaoui's coalition of supporters said the new public summary "contains no proof, simply allegations, hearsay, and fragments of alleged conversations and incidents involving Mr. Charkaoui."

It expressed concern the allegations from Ressam remain part of the file despite a retraction from the jailed convict, who was caught trying to smuggle explosives into the United States on the eve of the millennium.

"Charkaoui and his lawyers have asked to cross-examine Ressam numerous times. This opportunity has always been denied, and it was finally admitted by the government that no sworn testimony existed, and that the information was based on hearsay," the statement says.

The coalition also objected to the "crude profiling" in the summary. "The profiling relies on a picture - a very distorted picture - of who Mr. Charkaoui is, rather than anything he has done."

The newly filed papers reveal CSIS's reliance on close physical surveillance, wiretap information and material supplied by confidential informants.

The disclosure of additional details seems to be a conscious effort to counter critics who consider the certificate process unfair because little evidence against the men has been made public over the years. The government insists revealing too much would betray secret sources and methods.

The CSIS documents say:

-Almrei, a supposed adherent of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, appeared in September 1999 to "have access cards and codes for a restricted access building" at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. He was accompanied by five other individuals.

-Mahjoub, accused of membership in a radical wing of Egyptian terrorist organization Al Jihad, became aware he was being monitored in January 2000, and told an associate he could not talk because of the presence of the "Moukhabarat," or secret services.

-Harkat, an alleged al-Qaida agent, said in February 1998 that he had to keep a "low profile" as he needed status in Canada. Further, Harkat said once he had status he would be "ready," which CSIS took to mean that he would be prepared to wage jihad in support of Islamist terrorism once he became a permanent resident of Canada.

Security certificates have been issued in 28 cases in Canada since 1991.

The secrecy of the process has drawn vocal criticism from lawyers, civil libertarians and human-rights advocates in recent years. Opponents also stress that many certificate deportees face the risk of torture if returned to their home countries.

Under the new law, the special advocate will serve as a check on the state by being able to challenge the government's claims of secrecy over evidence, as well the relevance and weight of the facts.

The five men facing deportation under the refiled certificates will each be granted a new court hearing to determine the validity of their case.

The new law is also expected to face another round of constitutional challenges, which could further delay the outcome of the longstanding cases.