So this truck driver, suspected terrorist, chooses not to have a lawyer and voluntarily co-operates with his interrogators and he is still locked up in maximum security. It really sounds as if the FBI and AO Canada have blown up circumstantial evidence to spin their own web of fancies about a sleeper Al Qaeda cell in Canada. No one so far has been able to test these fancies in court except indirectly through the Arar inquiry which showed that the A O Canada investigators had zilch in the way of training for their job and sent unsifted libelous raw comments about Arar to the US with no caveats. But of course absolutely nothing has happened to punish these worthies and no doubt if Almalki is cleared no one will be punished either except the Canadian taxpayer who will pay a bundle for the Iacobucci inquiry-- but at least Almalki and the other may be cleared.
This is from the Globe and MailTorture, radios and why the U.S. won't let go
A complex web of relationships runs from the Maher Arar case to a truck driver awaiting trial in a maximum-security Minnesota prison. The immediate subject: radios. The real fear: An al-Qaeda sleeper agent setting up in Canada
On a chilly Minnesota night in 2004, FBI agents invited an immigrant truck driver to step out of the April air and warm up in a waiting car. They proceeded to bring him in for questioning, telling him they knew he'd served as a mujahedeen sniper in Afghanistan.
"How much trouble am I in?" was his reply, court records say.
The agents told the man, a U.S. resident by way of Lebanon, there would be no trouble -- if he answered their queries truthfully. The conversation lasted all night as they inquired about his life in 1990s Afghan training camps.
Then the interrogators switched gears: They wanted to know about a Canadian-run export enterprise. They suggested he worked for the business in 1996, sending walkie-talkies out of New York to Islamic radicals lurking in Afghanistan's remote refuges.
Since 1997 -- and with heightened zeal since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington -- counterterrorism investigators have been trying to connect a Canadian two-way-radio export enterprise with al-Qaeda.
The probe, ultimately dubbed Project A-O Canada, led to the arrest and torture of Maher Arar, the telecommunications engineer wrongly smeared as a terrorist. It has left a Canadian exporter, Abdullah Almalki, trying to clear his name, and it has spawned the prosecution of the Minnesota trucker, held since 2004 in a maximum-security U.S. prison awaiting trial.
The charge? Lying about those ubiquitous radios.
The real fear: An al-Qaeda sleeper agent setting up shop in Canada.
The Globe and Mail has spent months investigating Project A-O Canada and its tangled aftermath -- the complex web of personal and police interactions that have remained an unsettling mystery.
In 2001, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which has no powers of arrest, passed its probe on to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For the Canadians, the investigation led to no criminal charges north of the border. It led instead to Mr. Arar, who has received $10-million in damages and an apology from Ottawa.
For the Americans, the probe seems never-ending. Mr. Arar, 36, remains on the U.S. watch list, for reasons never publicly explained. And in Minnesota, the government is pressing its case against the trucker, Mohammed Kamal Elzahabi, 43 -- even bugging his prison cell.
In the U.S. view, the Elzahabi case is about radios the way the 1930s prosecution of gangster Al Capone was about tax evasion. Minnesota court records show that, in 2004, agents rushed to arrest Mr. Elzahabi because they knew him as an Afghan-trained sniper and had heard he was moving north.
"There was concern that he, like others in his specialty, in his trade, might use Canada as a base to attack the United States," FBI agent Harry Samit testified in Minneapolis last year.
A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in an interview: "If we have any individuals whom we have the slightest inclination of potentially being a threat, we will use anything at our disposal." He added: "By the time I can prove the criminality, it's probably too late."
The American way of counterterrorism is in stark contrast to the Canadian model, where investigators are far more constrained by civil-liberties protections. "Their job is exponentially much more difficult," the U.S. official allowed.
Yet the terrorist threat remains, he said. "The only thing that has decreased since Sept. 11 is people's appreciation of the severity of the situation. Particularly," he added pointedly, "in countries that have not been victimized."
The substance of the Elzahabi case is not contentious.
In that post-9/11 world, the Mounties hoped to unearth a supposed al-Qaeda support cell that was allegedly shipping goods, including walkie-talkies, to Afghanistan. The prime target of Project A-O Canada was Mr. Almalki, now 35, an Ottawa-based exporter originally from Syria. He turned out to be a dangerous man to know.
The RCMP were tracking Mr. Almalki's every move, watching his associations, while financially savvy detectives were probing complex transactions of his export business.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Almalki had prevailed on the Elzahabis -- Lebanese friends from Montreal, including Mohammed Kamal Elzahabi -- to help him out. Mr. Elzahabi's brother, Abdelrahman, had just opened a mechanic's business in New York. The brothers at Drive Axle Rebuilders, or DAR, developed a sideline -- they would help the Ottawa exporter buy cheap electronic equipment in the United States, consolidate the packages in New York and ship them to Pakistan.
The enterprise would spell trouble for everyone involved.
In January of 2002, the RCMP raided Mr. Almalki's Ottawa house. Montreal residences associated with his friend and business partner, Abdelrahman Elzahabi -- who split time between New York and Montreal -- were also searched, The Globe has learned.
On the same day, the RCMP showed up on Mr. Arar's Ottawa doorstep. They didn't have a search warrant -- and he wasn't home -- but they wanted to ask him about the radio business. They had once spotted him talking to Mr. Almalki.
All this would prove controversial after the fruits of the RCMP searches were handed over to the FBI. "The documents detail purchases and shipments of radios and other electronics worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, all shipped to DAR in New York," reads an FBI affidavit in the Minnesota case.
"Among the items shipped to Elzahabi's New York business were large quantities of portable field radios or 'walkie talkies,' " the affidavit says. ". . . Field radios of the same make and models as was shipped to DAR in New York have been recovered in Afghanistan by U.S. military forces during military actions following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
The U.S. government provides no proof. Nor does it suggest the exports themselves were a crime. But lying to federal agents is illegal.
The FBI says the truck driver told them he didn't know much about the business. Yet agents say they recovered a 1996 fax addressed to a "Mr. Elzahabi" that proves he was intimately aware of the walkie-talkies. "Mohammed Kamal Elzahabi did knowingly and willfully make a false material statement," the indictment says.
But the crux of the matter may lie elsewhere: fears that Mr. Elzahabi was an al-Qaeda agent bent on using Canada as a base. FBI agents told him it was in his interest to talk -- which he did, for 17 days, in a hotel room rented for the occasion.
They had him forgo his right to a lawyer and sign a waiver saying he was not being mistreated. "I have met with the FBI and voluntarily detailed my background and associations," he wrote. ". . . I have been staying in a nice hotel room in downtown Minneapolis."
According to court documents, portions of which have been made public, Mr. Elzahabi told his FBI hosts a remarkable story.
In the 1980s, he attended an Islamic conference in the United States. It radicalized him. Like many young Arabs, he decided to join Afghans fighting the Soviets.
He joined a missionary group to facilitate his entry to the Afghan camps. Mr. Elzahabi lingered there long after the Soviets left. He took the name Abu Kamal al-Lubnani and became a sniper instructor, giving other Arabs small-arms training at the Khalden camp, a base for would-be mujahedeen fighters that years later would be taken over by al-Qaeda.
In the early 1990s, he met men who would go on to become notorious terrorists, even the eventual mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But later, when Mr. Elzahabi was asked whether he was part of al-Qaeda, "he would frequently tell us that he was not a member," Agent Samit testified.
Court documents say Mr. Elzahabi was shot in the gut during the Afghan civil war, forcing a return to the United States for treatment.
While on the mend, he worked in the mechanic's business, DAR, run by his brother in New York. After that, he drove a cab in Boston. Three other former mujahedeen worked at the same company. One ended up jailed for an al-Qaeda bomb plot in Jordan. Another was killed trying to lead a Sunni insurrection in Lebanon. The other is jailed in Syria.
FBI Boston started investigating Mr. Elzahabi in 1999 but never came up with any evidence he was a terrorist. Agents lost track of him -- he went to fight the Russians in Chechnya -- before an FBI public-record search found him driving 18-wheelers out of Minnesota.
While the charges against him are relatively minor, he is being held in a maximum-security prison. And the government admitted this year to bugging and videotaping his cell.
"The presumption of innocence means nothing in this case," his lawyer, Paul Engh, said. His client's prison time, the lawyer added, is already "well past" any sentence he would get if convicted of lying about walkie-talkies.
The men mentioned in connection with the radio business have had a mixed fate.
Take the trucker's brother, Abdelrahman Elzahabi, now 36 and living in Montreal. Properties associated with him were raided in Quebec; police have not said what they took. But according to bankruptcy records obtained by The Globe, he told creditors that his wife had thrown out all his personal files and even his pilot's licence. He had been forced to sell his 1985 Nissan and also a Cessna aircraft. Police, too, tried to ground him: It wasn't in his interests to board any commercial international flights, a source says he was told.
But the mechanic fared better than the other targets of the probe.
On Sept. 27, 2002, FBI agents stopped Mr. Arar at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. "During the interview, Arar admitted his association with Abdullah Almalki . . .," reads a U.S. deportation document. ". . . Arar also advised the FBI that Almalki exports radios and one of his customers is the Pakistani military."
Mr. Arar was declared an "al-Qaeda member" who was "unequivocally inadmissible" to the United States. He was flown in shackles aboard a CIA Gulfstream jet and sent to a Syrian prison -- where he again met Mr. Almalki.
Six months earlier, the exporter had been arrested flying into his homeland voluntarily. Mr. Almalki said he was stuffed into a tire, his head, feet and genitals beaten. Mr. Arar said he was kept in a grave-like cell and beaten with electrical cables. Both men were eventually released back to Canada.
Mr. Almalki said there is no riddle of the radios.
"To any logical person it would mean all these years of investigation, all those years of torture -- it was either there was no investigation all these years, it was just fake everything, or there was just nothing," he said in an interview.
He doesn't hide the fact that he exported walkie-talkies and related circuitry. But he said he always did so legally, and he can prove his goods were shipped to Pakistan. "I don't know about Afghanistan because I never sold or dealt with Afghanistan related to any type of equipment," he said.
He retains a 1995 invoice from one of his biggest clients, the Pakistani army. The paper shows the army's "Director General of Military Procurement" agreed to buy nearly $300,000 worth of equipment.
Some Pakistani generals were known to support radical Muslims in Afghanistan, but Mr. Almalki said he has no idea whether his wares were shipped across any border.
"What I sold to the Pakistani government, my responsibility or any responsibility on the face of the earth, would end by the time the shipment gets sent off to the customer," he said.
The Globe contacted the state-owned outfit in Lahore that bought the goods. A representative said the 1995 shipment was too old to verify, but confirmed his company imported walkie-talkies in that period. He expressed surprise this could still be an issue for anyone.
"We have never been questioned by any local or foreign intelligence agency about the imports in question . . ." said MicroElectronics International marketing manager Munawar Ali, a retired air-force officer. "You are the first one who has asked for such information."
For his part, Mr. Almalki said: "I've never had contact with al-Qaeda, never known anyone from al-Qaeda . . ."
He has never faced a criminal charge in Canada. But police say they are still pursuing him. Meanwhile, a new judicial inquiry, led by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, is delving into the investigation and torture of Mr. Almalki. It will start taking submissions next week.
Last year, Mr. Engh, the defence lawyer in the Minnesota case, asked the judge to let him seek statements from the known targets of Project A-O Canada. The idea is to prove that Mr. Elzahabi never lied to the FBI -- that he really didn't know much about the radios.
Judge John Tunheim cleared the lawyer to go to Canada to get a statement. In an interview, Mr. Almalki said he'd be happy to help debunk the FBI case, particularly the 1996 fax to a "Mr. Elzahabi" taken from his home in the RCMP raids.
"That fax was for his brother [Abdelrahman], not him," Mr. Almalki said. "I'm not sure he [Mohammed Kamal] knows anything about electronics."
Judge Tunheim turned down the defence request for a statement from Mr. Arar, who was deemed irrelevant to the case.
Still, the FBI may feel otherwise. Court documents filed in Minnesota show that the truck driver was asked questions about Mr. Arar during his interrogation. A defence motion suggests that the FBI is trying to tie Mr. Arar to the New York garage that reshipped the radios.
The Globe asked Mr. Arar and his lawyer, Lorne Waldman, whether they knew why.
"We have no idea why the FBI says this - Maher has never heard of a DAR in New York," Mr. Waldman said in an e-mail to The Globe. Asked whether he knew Mohammed Kamal Elzahabi, the lawyer said only: "Maher says he had his car fixed at [Abdelrahman's] garage a few times when he lived in Montreal."
Later, Mr. Waldman said his client doesn't recall ever meeting the other brother, Mohammed. It is not clear when the trucker's case will come to trial, adding another chapter to the recurring saga of the radios.
Who's whoMaher Arar, Canadian engineer: The Syrian-born engineer has been cleared of links to terrorism. A Canadian judge has found it very likely that U.S. border guards used incorrect Canadian information in declaring him an "al-Qaeda" member, to deport him to Syria, where he was held for a year.
Abdullah Almalki, Canadian exporter: This Syrian exporter once worked for an Afghan charity but says he never sent any goods there. He was held twice as long as Mr. Arar in a Syrian jail. A new judicial commission is probing his allegations of Canadian government complicity in his torture.
Abdelrahman Elzahabi, Canadian mechanic: He once worked with Mr. Almalki to ship walkie-talkies overseas. Police raided Montreal properties associated with him on the day they visited the other two men. Though never charged with a crime, police told him not to board any commercial flights out of Canada.
Mohammed Kamal Elzahabi, Minnesota truck driver: The brother of the mechanic is an acknowledged mujahedeen fighter but denies being in al-Qaeda. He has been jailed for three years and awaits trial on charges of lying to the FBI about shipping radios.