Hezbollah sent kingpin to B.C. unit
Stewart Bell -National Post
Wednesday, November 27, 2002
The Hezbollah terrorist group dispatched one of its "major players" to Vancouver to operate a clandestine cell that raised money and bought military supplies for attacks, according to testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

Mohammad Dbouk, ringleader of the Vancouver cell, was considered so important to the Lebanese Shiite group that it rejected his application to become a "martyr" five times, the Senate judiciary committee was told.

"Hezbollah is such an organized terrorist group that they actually have application forms for martyr duty," said Robert J. Conrad, the U.S. Attorney who has brought charges against the members of the Canadian cell.

"And Dbouk applied five times .... And he was rejected five times because of his significance to this organization.... He was such a significant player that they would rather get other people other than him [for suicide attacks]," Mr. Conrad testified at a Nov. 20 hearing in Washington, D.C.

The testimony is the first indication Hezbollah has sent high-ranking agents to Canada and suggests the terror group values its Canadian operation -- even as the federal government refuses to outlaw its activities.

Mr. Conrad also testified about chilling videotapes seized from the homes of the cell members, including one in which two boys, one of them three years old, are repeatedly slapped in the face and commanded: "Tell them who you are!" The hitting only stops when they reply: "Hezbollah."

In another seized video, Hezbollah recruits pledge to "detonate ourselves, to shake the grounds under our enemies, America and Israel." A third tape shows Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, leading a chant of "Death to America."

Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, stirred controversy when he attended a summit in Beirut last month that Sheik Nasrallah also attended. Since then, the Canadian government has been criticized for its reluctance to ban Hezbollah under the anti-terrorism act.

A radical Lebanese Muslim group whose name means Party of God, Hezbollah uses terrorist tactics such as suicide bombings and missile attacks to promote its agenda of imposing Iranian-style Islamic rule in the Middle East.

Hezbollah has been using Canada as an offshore base for a decade. The RCMP says the group raises money in Canada by stealing cars, and Canadian intelligence says its operatives are in every major city. Israeli authorities recently arrested a Canadian named Fauzi Ayub, a Toronto man they claim was sent to Israel by Hezbollah to organize terror attacks.

A suspected Hezbollah hijacker caught by Canadian authorities in 1993 also confessed the group had sent video footage of Canadian life and infrastructure to Lebanon to assist in planning attacks here "in case there's a problem with Canada."

But Bill Graham, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has said he will not outlaw the terrorist group because it is involved in social and political work. Instead, he has suggested banning only its so-called military wing.

According to Mr. Conrad's testimony, U.S. agents were investigating a North Carolina cigarette-smuggling ring when they discovered it was being run by Hezbollah agents, who were sending the money to Canada.

Agents based in Vancouver were using the cash to buy such military-use equipment as night-vision goggles, blasting equipment, powerful computers and video equipment used to film attacks against Israelis.

Mr. Conrad testified the United States has confirmed the Canadian cell was run by Imad Mugniyah, one of the world's most-wanted terrorists. The United States is offering a $25-million reward for information about him -- the same amount it has posted for Osama bin Laden.

"Post-9/11, people tend to forget who Hezbollah is in the wake of the attention focused on al-Qaeda," he said. "But, we didn't forget. Senator [Bob] Graham of the Senate Intelligence Committee just last spring referred to Hezbollah, not al-Qaeda, as the A-team of terrorism ... [and] said that Mugniyah made Osama bin Laden look like a schoolboy."

The prosecutor said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service provided wiretaps of the suspects as well as detailed surveillance photos.

Asked by Senator Arlen Spector to describe the nature of the co-operation with Canada, Mr. Conrad replied: "Outstanding, ultimately. Slow at first, some degree of reluctance to share information with American prosecutors that they hadn't shared with the RCMP before. But their co-operation was outstanding."

He said none of the Canadian cell members had yet been brought to justice. Mr. Dbouk fled to Lebanon before he could be arrested. The United States tried to extradite a second suspect, Ali Amhaz of Burnaby, B.C., but the proceedings were dropped last year because Canada did not then have a comparable anti-terrorism law. Canadian authorities have laid no charges against the cell members.

"It's pretty hard to extradite from Lebanon," Mr. Spector said.

"And Canada," Mr. Conrad added.