Canada's al-Qaeda 'singing like birds' Captured operatives reported to be co-operating with interrogators
Stewart Bell- National Post
Saturday, November 02, 2002
The Canadian government has sent troops to Afghanistan and frozen dozens of suspicious bank accounts but Canada's most valuable contribution to the war on terrorism may well be its terrorists. Al-Qaeda members from Canada, who have been captured around the world, are telling all to U.S. authorities, providing much-needed intelligence about the global Islamic terrorist network. Three of the most prized al-Qaeda informants in U.S. custody are a Canadian of Egyptian ancestry, a Kuwaiti-Canadian and a refugee claimant from Algeria who has lived in Montreal since the early 1990s. This week, U.S. officials said Omar Khadr, a Toronto-born teenage fighter captured in Afghanistan, was co-operating and had supplied information about his father, a suspected senior al-Qaeda operative. "He's singing like a bird," a U.S. official told The Washington Post. Mr. Khadr, accused of killing a U.S. soldier in July, was one of 30 suspected al-Qaeda detainees flown on Monday to Camp X-Ray, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Also said to be talking to interrogators is Mohamed Mansour Jabarah, a 20-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., who headed an al-Qaeda cell in Singapore but was captured several months ago in Oman.
An FBI report circulated last week said Mr. Jabarah had alerted U.S. authorities to an al-Qaeda plot to bomb Western cafés and nightclubs in several Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia -- the site of an Oct. 12 blast that killed almost 200 tourists. And Ahmed Ressam, a Montreal-based Algerian terrorist who trained at Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and later tried to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, has been extremely co-operative since prosecutors offered to reduce his sentence to 24 years from 130. Insiders-turned-tattlers are the bedrock of intelligence work. This was as true in the days of Cold War spy v. spy as it is in the age of counterterrorism. They can provide details about a terrorist organization that can bring about its collapse: names, phone numbers, details of plots, the locations of safe houses, bank accounts and arms caches. Since the war on terrorism was launched, the United States has had remarkable success at getting al-Qaeda prisoners to talk -- remarkable because Islamic terrorists are supposed to be true believers who want nothing more than martyrdom. Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies, said despite all the boastful talk of martyrdom and the hereafter, today's Islamic terrorists tend to be cautious about their personal well-being. "Their leader, Osama bin Laden, himself fled the scene of battle in Afghanistan -- hardly an exemplary model of personal bravery or commitment to martyrdom," said Prof. Rudner, whose centre is part of Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
"It doesn't come as a surprise that when arrested and interrogated, some of these militants are prepared to divulge information in order to spare themselves prolonged incarceration." Some of the confessions have clearly been false, an attempt to distract investigators by making them chase dead ends. But a good chunk of the terrorists' claims have been dead-on, particularly those supplied by the Canadian terrorists. Although Ressam once discussed bombing a Montreal Jewish neighbourhood and built a massive chemical bomb that he intended to detonate at LAX, his commitment to the cause of holy war seems to have been tempered by the lifetime prison term he was facing following his conviction last year. Prosecutors agreed to recommend a greatly reduced sentence if he co-operated and testified against his cohorts. He accepted and has already provided information believed to have resulted in several arrests and convictions. The National Post reported in April that Ressam had supplied valuable information to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Ressam might also be asked to take the stand against Abu Zubaydah, bin Laden's captured chief of operations, who arranged for Ressam and thousands of other Muslim militants to train at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Officials said it had not been difficult to convince Mr. Jabarah to talk because of his age and upbringing in Canada. Although born in Kuwait, he spent most of his life in St. Catharines and was only indoctrinated into radical Islam during trips to the Persian Gulf. He eventually travelled to Pakistan, met with bin Laden, and on Sept. 10, was dispatched by the architect of the World Trade Center massacre to Singapore, where he headed a cell planning attacks against U.S., Israeli and Western targets.
The ring was broken up, however, and Mr. Jabarah fled to Oman, where he was arrested and handed him over to Canadian authorities, who escorted him voluntarily back to Canada and interrogated him. He then agreed to go to the United States. He is now being held at a U.S. military base and is said to be providing information about al-Qaeda operations in Asia, an emerging Islamist stronghold. It is unclear why Mr. Khadr is talking, but he is not only young but also poorly-schooled, with a Grade 8 education, which may have left him easy prey for veteran CIA interrogators. His sister Zaynab said she trusted him to do "the right thing." It was not always so easy. The bombers who blew up the World Trade center in 1993 have still not said a single word to investigators, and one of the men convicted in the al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania declined to co-operate even though prosecutors offered to drop all charges against him. Perhaps there is a Darwinian aspect to the change -- that diehards who fight to the death are doomed to extinction. Filling their place in the violent Islamist movement are those more attached to survival. Or maybe the cannon fodder of al-Qaeda are not buying it anymore. "Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations indoctrinate their members with blind loyalty to the death. "However, this indoctrination fails in certain lower-ranking members. Such operatives may be more susceptible to interrogation," said Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Institute, a terrorism research centre in Washington, D.C. The key to turning Mr. Jabarah and Mr. Khadr may have been that both are young and therefore more susceptible to U.S. interrogation tactics. But their Canadian citizenship was also likely a factor: As citizens, they have much more to lose than the average Saudi, Egyptian or Pakistani Islamic militant.