CANADA

A terrorist's hidden past

CINDY BARRETT February 29 1988
CANADA

A terrorist's hidden past

CINDY BARRETT February 29 1988

A terrorist's hidden past

The two versions of events were radically different. Last month Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad portrayed himself as a family man who had renounced terrorism 18 years ago. As part of his fight to avoid deportation from Canada, Mohammad maintained that he had not been actively involved in the Palestinian cause since 1970, when he was convicted of manslaughter in the death of an Israeli engineer during the sabotage two

years earlier of an El Al airliner in Athens. But last week new reports emerged that offered a more sinister view of Mohammad, a 45-year-old father of three. A 12-year-old book based in part on Mohammad’s life described him as an officer in a Palestinian terrorist group as recently as 1975. And from Israel came charges that Mohammad had been involved in terrorist activities until he came to Canada in February, 1987. Mohammad denied the new allegations—but they cast fresh doubt on his story.

Mohammad has been under intense media scrutiny since journalists discovered in January that he was living in Brantford, Ont., 100 km southwest of Toronto. He acknowledged that he had lied about his ' past when he entered Canada from Spain as a landed immigrant—and the federal govern-

ment announced that it had begun deportation proceedings against him. Mohammad, who served three months of a 17-year sentence for the airliner attack before he was released in a hostage exchange, told Maclean's last week that even if he is not deported he will leave Canada. “I was more comfortable in the Third World than I am here,” he said, blaming what he described as “savage” media coverage for several anonymous threats.

Mohammad’s lawyers argued in Federal Court last week that the deportation proceeding is invalid and should not go ahead. They maintained that proper procedures were not followed in setting it up and that because the adjudicator in charge is an employee of the immigration department, which has already decided that Mohammad should be deported, he is biased against him. Department lawyers will respond to those arguments this week.

The new allegations against Mohammad came from two sources. On Feb. 14 officials of the Israeli Airline Pilots Association said that he had been involved in a 1986 plot to attack a Jewish settlement in Morocco—a charge that his lawyers denied. And then, last week, the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir reported the existence of a ghostwritten autobiography of Mohammad. The 284-page book, Je suis un fedayin (“I am a freedom fighter”), published in France in 1976, chronicles the activities of a Palestinian terrorist called Mahmoud Issa, alias Selim, who was a captain in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as late as January, 1975. Mohammad admitted to being interviewed by the author, French journalist Huguette Cuchet-Cheruzel, but he said that the main character was a composite of many people.

Cuchet-Cheruzel later confirmed Mohammad’s statement. But the new controversy was a blow to Mohammad in his fight for public sympathy. And as he awaited the outcome of his court case last week, he pondered his future and his next home. “That’s the big question,” he said. “No country will let me in.”

CINDY BARRETT with MICHAEL URLOCKER in Ottawa