Plane that ferried Arar to Middle East prison touches down in Canada
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
OTTAWA -- The mysterious American jet that set Maher Arar en route to a grim Syrian prison visited Canada this week, prompting new questions about landings by aircraft linked to U.S. intelligence.
Flight data obtained by The Canadian Press shows the Gulfstream plane, with tail number N259SK, left Newfoundland's Gander International Airport on Monday for Tampa, Fla.
It has been more than three years since Arar, an Ottawa telecommunications engineer, was shackled and bundled aboard the same sleek white jet bound for Amman, Jordan.
From there, he was driven across the border to Syria.
Arar, whose case is now the focus of a federal inquiry, says he was tortured in Damascus as a terrorism suspect before being released in the fall of 2003.
Recently declassified memos say 20 planes with alleged CIA ties have made 74 flights to Canada since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Flight records compiled by The Canadian Press indicate that since mid-2005 alone, at least eight different planes owned by reputed CIA shell corporations have landed at Canadian airports in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Ontario and Quebec.
Arar said Wednesday the appearance in Canada of the jet that shuttled him overseas underscores the need to probe these landings.
"It is even more crucial for the government to conduct an investigation and tell Canadians what they know about those flights,'' he said in an interview.
"I really think Canadians need answers.''
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained in New York in September 2002, accused of involvement with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization. Several days later he was deported to Syria by U.S. authorities.
Arar, who denies any connection to terrorism, has described being flown on a lengthy journey aboard a private jet from New Jersey to Washington, Maine, Rome and finally Jordan.
Last year the New York Times zeroed in on the plane in question, which then had the tail number N829MG, by scouring U.S. Federal Aviation Administration logs.
The jet, owned at the time by Florida company MJG Aviation, was later apparently sold to S & K Aviation of Tampa and assigned the new tail number N259SK.
Efforts Wednesday to contact S & K Aviation were unsuccessful. There is no current telephone listing for the company. One phone line at the firm's address near the Tampa General Hospital had been disconnected.
Amnesty International has singled out the shadowy Gulfstream jet in raising concerns about flights that might be transporting prisoners to countries where they could be brutalized.
John Tackaberry, a spokesman for Amnesty's Canadian chapter, said the Gulfstream's recent landing in Newfoundland is more evidence of the need for a federal probe to "get to the bottom'' of what the jet and the other CIA-linked planes are doing in Canada.
"This is a wake-up call to the government and the authorities,'' Tackaberry said.
"This is obviously just a red flag.''
Arar's lawyer, Marlys Edwardh, said she was shocked "that there has been no substantive investigation that has been produced any public information'' about the alleged CIA flights.
"Certainly, you have every reason to want to know why those kind of aircraft are being given safe haven here.''
The Public Safety Department said in January a federal review of landings by the supposed CIA flights turned up no evidence of "illegal activities.''
That explanation does not satisfy Edwardh.
"First, you have to ask the question, how would they know?'' she said. "How do we know it's lawful?''
In early 2004, the federal government appointed Justice Dennis O'Connor to examine the actions of RCMP members and other Canadian officials in the Arar affair. The inquiry is in its final stages.
A Privy Council Office spokeswoman did not return a phone call Wednesday.
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