Quebec: Radical Islamist preacher or victim of a witch hunt? Islamist preacher or victim of a witch hunt? The new case against Adil Charkaoui | National Post // // //
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MONTREAL – Beginning in the late 1990s, Canadian intelligence officers opened a file on Adil Charkaoui that eventually persuaded them he was a dangerous al-Qaida sleeper agent.

But after federal prosecutors chose to withdraw their security certificate case against him in 2009 rather than disclose intelligence sources, the Moroccan immigrant slipped from public view.

Today, Charkaoui, 41, has resurfaced as an imam, and he finds himself under a different cloud.

Instead of targeting jetliners or the Montreal subway system, as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service once alleged, he is accused of poisoning the minds of young Quebecers.

THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jacques Boissinot

THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jacques Boissinot Quebec Opposition House Leader Agnes Maltais at the legislature in Quebec City Dec. 2, 2014.

In the National Assembly Thursday, Parti Québécois secularism critic Agnès Maltais accused the Liberal government of doing nothing to stop Charkaoui’s “recruitment” of young jihadis. Following news that 10 young Montrealers — including at least one who had signed up for courses at Charkaoui’s Centre Communautaire Islamique de l’Est de Montréal — were arrested as they prepared to join overseas jihadist groups, Maltais called Charkaoui the common denominator in a recent wave of such departures.

“What is going on at this centre? What is Adil Charkaoui telling the children he frequents? How is it that the young people who follow his teachings suddenly want to join the Islamic State?” she asked in the legislature, where members enjoy immunity against defamation suits.

Answers to her provocative questions remain murky. Charkaoui could not be reached for an interview, but in a post on his Facebook page he accused Maltais and the PQ of inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment. “With her irresponsible statements, Ms. Agnès Maltais continues to act, as unfortunately the PQ has since 2013, as an agent of radicalization,” he wrote.

In February, Charkaoui acknowledged to La Presse that two members of a group of seven Quebecers who left for Syria in January had attended his centre, which offers religious instruction, outdoor activities and martial arts lessons for youth.

Charkaoui has denied any role in radicalization and complained he is the victim of a witch-hunt. In an interview with Radio-Canada in February, he said he is against all violence, “whether it is the bombing of civilians, the white phosphorous that burns the children of Gaza or decapitations.”

After being jailed for two years and subjected to strict restrictions for another four as he fought the government’s attempt to return him to Morocco, Charkaoui filed a lawsuit seeking $26-million in damages. He accused the federal government of illegally detaining him and violating his constitutional rights.

The case is ongoing and no allegations have been proven in court, but in its statement of defence filed in Quebec Superior Court, the federal government argues that its treatment of Charkaoui was justified.

Charkaoui first came to the attention of CSIS when he was spotted in the company of suspected Islamic extremists in Montreal, reports filed as evidence say. Ahmed Ressam, convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, told CSIS agents that Charkaoui was present at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in 1998, the documents say. Charkaoui said he was attending Islamic schools in Pakistan at the time.

Bruno Schlumberger / Postmedia News file

Bruno Schlumberger / Postmedia News fileAdil Charkaoui in the foyer of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa Jan.31, 2008.

The defence states that CSIS had reasonable grounds to believe Charkaoui had discussed plans for terrorist attacks. A cryptic 2000 conversation intercepted between Charkaoui and two others “seemed to be about seizing control of a plane for aggressive reasons,” the documents state. Another conversation was intercepted in which two associates of Charkaoui discussed “Adil” and his plan for a biochemical attack on the Montreal subway system.

The RCMP observed Charkaoui carrying out a theft and fraudulent credit card purchases in 2000, the documents say, and CSIS believed the proceeds were used to fund an overseas jihadist group.

“The information obtained by CSIS during its investigation, in particular certain interceptions of communications, provided reasonable grounds to believe that that actions and speech of [Charkaoui] showed his support for armed jihad and the use of violence and that he had demonstrated violent behavior himself,” the defence stated.

Pierre Obendrauf / Postmedia News file

Pierre Obendrauf / Postmedia News fileAdil Charkaoui cuts off his security bracelet outside Federal Court in Montreal on Sept. 24, 2009.

Despite the allegations, Charkaoui was able to build a new life as a teacher. Until February, his Islamic centre was renting space in two east-end Montreal colleges to teach children Arabic, karate and kick-boxing.

Last month, the Collège de Rosemont announced it was severing all ties with Charkaoui’s centre after discovering links on its web site that led to extremist material. Collège de Maisonneuve initially suspended its contract providing the centre classrooms for Sunday Arabic lessons but later allowed the classes to resume in the presence of an external monitor.

Eleven young Montrealers who have left or tried to leave for Syria this year attended Collège de Maisonneuve, but a spokeswoman for the school said no connection can be drawn to the activities of Charkaoui’s centre within the college. He is not present during the Sunday classes, she said, and the students are mostly pre-teens.

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