March 15, 2005 - 15:34

CSIS agents intimidating bail-sureties for security detainees, lawyer says


TORONTO (CP) - Canada's intelligence service is deliberately intimidating people who offer to put up bail for those the government deems a risk to national security, a Federal Court heard Tuesday.

The allegation came during a bail hearing for Mohammad Mahjoub, 44, an Egyptian held in a Toronto jail since his arrest as an alleged security threat since June 2000. During his testimony, a consulting engineer to the nuclear industry said he was afraid to visit Mahjoub in jail in light of two unsettling incidents that occurred after he first offered to put up $20,000 in bail money.

In the first incident a year ago, Mohammed Abdelhaleem said Canadian immigration authorities detained him for several hours on his return from Egypt, where he had gone to visit his dying mother.

He was similarly detained without explanation a month ago after returning from her funeral, he told the court.

"I don't know whether it's just scaring people," said Abdelhaleem, who has a security clearance and has never been in trouble with the law.

"Am I going to go through this every time I come to the country? How is this going to work?"

In an interview, Abdelhaleem, 57, who came to Canada via England in 1989 and became a citizen in 1992, said an Immigration agent met him as soon as he got off the plane, saying, "Here's the guy."

He said he didn't know what prompted the sudden scrutiny but said he worried it was connected to the Mahjoub bail offer.

Mahjoub's lawyer, Barbara Jackman, fingered Canada's Security and Intelligence Service directly.

"CSIS is developing a policy of intimidating people who stand for sureties," Jackman told Justice Eleanor Dawson.

She urged Dawson to ask questions about the alleged practice when she hears from a CSIS counter-terrorism officer on Friday at a secret hearing from which Mahjoub and his lawyers are excluded.

Crown lawyer Don McIntosh branded Jackman's comment as a "polemical statement" that had no "evidentiary basis."

In an interview, Jackman was adamant she had raised a genuine issue that has been documented before the courts in other cases.

"It's been going on for a while," she said. "It really affects the integrity of the judicial system."

Abdelhaleem said he met Mahjoub at mosque several times before his detention and their wives had become good friends. He said he was confident Mahjoub poses no danger and would abide by any bail conditions.

"He's a good person in general and a good Muslim," said Abdelhaleem, a contract project manager with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. "Good Muslims are true to their word."

The government alleges Mahjoub, who came to Canada in 1995, was a senior member of the Vanguards of Conquest, a terrorist group subsumed by the Egyptian Al Jihad and later by al-Qaida.

An Egyptian military tribunal sentenced him in absentia to 15 years for his association with the organization.

He has never been charged with any crime in Canada, and is not allowed to see the evidence the government has to support its claim he poses a threat to the country's security.

Also Tuesday, a long-time peace and rights activist offered to put up $5,000 for Mahjoub and help ensure he abide by any bail conditions.

Matthew Behrens, 40, said he came to know Mahjoub and his family almost four years ago.

The founder of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, Behrens said he was "very concerned" about the length of the detention and that Mahjoub had a right to bail.

"I do not believe he poses a threat to the community or anyone," Behrens testified.

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