NATIONAL

THE INFORMANT

The Mounties’ man in the Toronto terror bust admits a cocaine habit

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI September 10 2007
NATIONAL

THE INFORMANT

The Mounties’ man in the Toronto terror bust admits a cocaine habit

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI September 10 2007

THE INFORMANT

The Mounties’ man in the Toronto terror bust admits a cocaine habit

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI

Mubin Shaikh stepped outside his apartment, lit a fresh cigarette, and peeled back the plastic lid on his Tim Hortons coffee (medium, with four creams and four sugars). A black toque covered his ears from the February cold, and a pair of camouflage hunting pants stuck out from underneath his beige, knee-length Islamic robe. “A disaster has been prevented,” he said, standing on the front stoop outside his building. “I would have had to turn over my passport and find a new place to live, because it would be over for the Muslims in Canada. It would be over.”

By then, Mubin Shaikh was already a household name—the young, charismatic Muslim who told the world that he was paid $300,000

to work as an undercover agent for the RCMP. Countless Canadians had watched him on national television, recounting how he spied on some of the 18 suspected terrorists arrested in Toronto last summer. Yet there he was, months after the sensational raids, standing in plain view outside his apartment—the very same one that Fahim Ahmad, the group’s alleged ringleader, used to visit. “People know where I live,” he said. “But I’m not afraid of anybody. I’m from the T-Dot, born and raised, and I ain’t going anywhere.”

Shaikh kept his word. Today, he still lives in the same building. His phone number hasn’t changed. And his faith—in both Allah and his decision to work for the Mounties— remains unshakable. “This is my destiny,” he says now. “I realize that more and more.” Along the way, Shaikh has realized something else: being the public face of Canada’s largestever anti-terrorism bust is, as he puts it, “no barrel of monkeys.” Many in the Muslim

community still resent him for “snitching” on his brothers. Some are convinced that it was Shaikh who urged them to act, then sat back and counted his cash while the others went to jail. In April, his reputation took another well-publicized hit when Toronto police charged him with assault after he allegedly shoved two Grade 7 schoolgirls.

Then there was the cocaine. Lots of cocaine. In a series of interviews with Maclean’s, Shaikh admits, for the first time, that the burden of being Canada’s most famous mole became too much to bear. And when it did, he turned not to God, but to hard drugs. “I spent some money on it, money that I shouldn’t have spent,” he admits. “The stress of my involvement was so great. Nobody has been through the situation that I have been through, and because of its impact and importance and significance—that is one hell of a weight to realize is on your head. It got so bad for me, it just broke me. It just broke me.”

Shaikh, 31, has always been honest about his younger days. He was a partier, a potsmoking tough guy who liked to drop LSD. After high school, though, he quit cold turkey and rededicated himself to Islam. He travelled the world, visiting Egypt, Israel and other Mideast countries before spending two years teaching in Syria. He also married his wife, Joanne Siska, a Polish-born Catholic who converted to Islam. They now have four young children.

But last July, after Shaikh went public with his role in taking down the “Toronto 18,” the fame proved more than he could handle. “What I was going through was so intense that I can’t even verbalize it,” he says now. “It really, really struck the core of me, because I was disappointed. I was disappointed with the Muslim community.” Shaikh was shocked, he says, that people were questioning his motives. While visiting a local falafel shop, one woman berated him for aiding the enemy. “I said: ‘Enemy? Police are your enemy? So if somebody comes and robs your store, who are you going to call? Taliban? Bin Laden?’ ” Even those who quietly supported his actions began to distance themselves. “I was alone. I got back into my old friends, and I started doing s-t again.” Shaikh says he bought “a couple thousand dollars” worth of cocaine over a six-

month span, and before long, a few casual snorts had ballooned into a full-blown habit. “There were a couple of times when I got real scared because my heart rate started blasting up and I had to call an ambulance,” he says. “I started realizing: ‘Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?’ ” He finally phoned his RCMP handlers and told them the truth. They checked him into rehab.

That’s not exactly the type of news prosecutors like to hear. Much of the crucial evidence in this case—from wiretaps to remotecontrolled detonators—was collected with Shaikh’s help. He is the government’s star witness. If his credibility is tarnished, if his motivations prove to be even the slightest bit insincere, it could be a damaging blow to the

Crown. Right now, police investigators are testifying at a preliminary hearing for the 14 adult suspects (what they’ve said is secret; the court proceedings are covered by a sweeping publication ban). Shaikh is scheduled to take the stand next. Defence lawyers can hardly wait. “I think it’s essential that the Canadian public is made aware of the extent to which these young men were manipulated and directed by CSIS agents,” says Dennis

Edney, Fahim Ahmad’s lawyer. “Particularly when one of those agents is an admitted drug addict with a powerful personality.”

THE CANADIAN Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) first met Shaikh in 2004. He approached the agency after reading about the arrest of Momin Khawaja, an Ottawa man accused of belonging to a London-based terror cell. Shaikh knew Khawaja’s family, and offered to tell CSIS everything he knew. The spooks were impressed. A former Canadian army cadet with a background in martial arts, Shaikh was a fixture at his neighbourhood mosque, a volunteer for the Liberal Party of Canada, and among the most vocal advocates of introducing Islamic sharia law in Canada. Ironically enough, some in the Muslim community considered him an extremist. But it wasn’t long before Shaikh was working part-time for the spy agency, trading inside information for cash. In November 2005, he was handed his biggest assignment yet: get to know Fahim Ahmad and Zakaria Amara.

CSIS had been watching both men, and some of their associates, for months already. But Shaikh would help break the case wide open. He gained their trust, joined them at a winter “training camp,” and listened as they allegedly hatched their plans to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, storm Parliament Hill, and behead politicians until the government agreed to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. When the Mounties took over the

investigation, Shaikh was their man. The force paid him an initial $77,000, and later topped up his compensation to an even $300,000 (Shaikh didn’t know it at the time, but authorities had a second mole on the inside, an unidentified Muslim businessman who was paid $4-1 million for his undercover service. He helped a core group of suspects allegedly purchase what they thought was ammonium nitrate, the same explosive fertilizer used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Unlike Shaikh, Informant No. 2 is now in the witness protection program). “I am a Muslim, and my ethos is to witness the truth,” Shaikh says. “I know that what I represent is true” (none of the allegations against any of the suspects has been proven in court, and all are considered innocent until proven guilty).

In the coming days, Shaikh will face his former “friends” for the first time in more than a year. They will be sitting in a bulletproof prisoners’ box, hanging on his every word. “I would be lying if I said I’m not a little bit anxious to meet their eyes,” he says. “To meet their eyes for the first time—to try to convince some of them that it’s not me that got you arrested, it’s you that got you arrested— that’s going to be difficult. But I will be truthful.” Shaikh knows what’s coming. He knows he will be grilled about his past. The criminal

charges he’s facing now, for instance, are not the first notch on his rap sheet. In August 2000, he was accused of assault, and five months later police charged him with uttering threats. Both counts were later withdrawn, and Shaikh is hoping for a similar outcome this time around. “I’m not concerned at all,” he says. “But even assuming that I’m guilty, does that somehow deplete my credibility as a witness in this terrorism investigation? Does that somehow invalidate all the evidence? Come on. If they want to be tough with me, they are going to see what kind of witness they have in front of them.”

Same goes for the cocaine, he says. “I know they are going to portray me out to be what-

ever—druggie, money hungry. But I’m not hiding anything. If I am so proud to say: ‘Yes, my Muslim brother is guilty of this crime by which he will be imprisoned and his freedom is going to be restricted,’ then I should be just as truthful enough to say something that is negative about me—and this is a perfect example. I should be able to say: ‘Yes, I was using drugs.’ ”

When he says that, Edward Sapiano will be in the courtroom. A prominent Toronto defence lawyer, he now represents Yasin Abdi Mohamed, one of the accused terrorists. “The fact that this guy is a cocaine addict in this context, I think it’s large,” Sapiano says. “It provides extreme motivation for him to fabricate. A cocaine addict, what does he need? Cocaine. What does he need for cocaine? Money. What’s this guy getting from the police? Money. Based on what? The quality and the size of his information.”

Shaikh’s response is typical Shaikh: bring it on. “I am not worried about it,” he says. “What are they going to ask me? They are going to say: ‘You did drugs.’ Okay, fine, I did drugs after the investigation. How does that affect at all what happened during the investigation? Zero. I’m not hiding anything. I believe in God and I believe in the day of judgment and I believe that everybody will have to answer for their deeds. And no high-

priced lawyers or politically connected whoevers can change that.”

NOR CAN THEY CHANGE Mubin Shaikh. He is forever charming, well-spoken and unfailingly self-assured. He wears his beard long and his religion on his sleeve. And regardless of all he has been through, he remains as outspoken as ever. On Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan: “We should be leaving,” he says. “We’ve got to stop interfering and dictating to other places how we would like to see them rule.” On the police: “I encourage Muslims to have the utmost respect for CSIS and the RCMP. Amidst the scandals, there are people who are working there that are so solid and I am glad they are working where they are.” On the fact that the second civilian informant was paid millions of dollars more than he was: “I’m not doing it for the money. I’m satisfied with what I have. I didn’t go off and buy a big house on the Bridle Path.”

Indeed, Shaikh hardly looks like a man who is $300,000 richer. His three-

bedroom apartment, a rental, is anything but ornate. The living room is furnished with a futon and a single bed. A few plastic toys fill the floor, and on the bookshelf behind him, the titles range from Reader Rabbit Math to Goodnight Stories from the Quran. As he spins a toy teacup on his finger, Shaikh explains the real reason why he co-operated with police. “I wanted to see things for myself,” he says. “I had doubts with what the government was

saying, what CSIS was saying. So I had to bear witness. If the infidels can’t be trusted, as I understand it, then you’d better make sure a guy like me is on the inside.” In other words, Shaikh says his undercover work will help ensure that only the true criminals face justice. Consider, for example, what happened earlier this year. After he testified at a preliminary hearing for the four teenagers implicated in the plot, Crown attorneys agreed to drop the charges against three of them. What Shaikh specifically said on the stand is under publication ban, but the result speaks for itself. Even now, more than a year after the arrests, Shaikh maintains that two of the adult suspects—Jahmaal James and Steven Chand— also should be set free. “The greatest jihad is to speak truth in the face of a tyrant,” he says.

As for the truth about his drug problem, Shaikh insists that he’s clean. He just returned from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, and says he hasn’t touched cocaine or any other illegal drug for a few months. “The stress is what led me to start,” he says. “I freely admit that. But once again, Allah saved me.” So did his wife. Just to be safe, she looks after the money now.

Which leaves Shaikh plenty of time to prepare for court—and for his next job. He recently launched

his own security guard company, United Fortress Security, and his client list is growing. “I am planning the next stage of my life,” he says. “I am realizing that this is just the beginning for me. And all these things that come out”—the cocaine, the rehab—“I want them to come out. I want the public to know these things from my lips, because when it comes out and when the sensationalism starts, I will be inoculated.” M