CANADA

The mystery of Mohammad

HILARY MACKENZIE March 7 1988
CANADA

The mystery of Mohammad

HILARY MACKENZIE March 7 1988

The mystery of Mohammad

At first it looked like a perfect arrangement. In exchange for identity documents supplied by the employment and immigration department and protective custody offered by the RCMP, convicted Palestinian terrorist Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad would quietly leave Canada for Algeria. But the plan started to unravel soon after the 45year-old Mohammad bid a tearful farewell to his wife, Fadia, and three children in Brantford, Ont. Within 24 hours he had flown to London, been refused permission to go on from there to Algeria—and had returned to Canada. The incident left officials of

the RCMP and the embattled Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) scrambling to absolve themselves of responsibility.

Mohammad had agreed to leave the country after deportation proceedings were launched against him because he had lied when he entered Canada last year about his role in the 1968 hijacking of an Israeli airliner in Athens. But the attempt began to fall apart even before he boarded an Air Canada plane last week. Reports of his impending departure spread through the airport, eventually reaching Gilbert Zamonsky, a Toronto businessman. Zamonsky then informed a friend, Marshall Shapiro, who in turn alerted the Toronto CTV television station.

As a result, instead of the shroud of secrecy that Mohammad was expecting on his arrival at London’s Heathrow

Airport, he was greeted by the glare of television lights. As well, according to his travelling companion, Rashad Saleh, Mohammad was confronted by British security agents who had been informed of his arrival by CSIS. Both the RCMP and CSIS denied that version of events.

Even less clear was why the second part of the plan fell apart. Officials of Air Algérie would not allow Mohammad to board a flight to Algiers because he did not have a visa to enter Algeria, and on Wednesday afternoon he returned to Toronto aboard another Air Canada flight. Said one source close to the investigation:

“The only thing that went wrong was that Mohammad didn’t have the documents to land in Algeria.” It was unclear if the Algerian government called the trip off because of the publicity—or if the travel arrangements, known only to a handful of people, were incomplete.

By week’s end, many questions remained as to what scuttled an arrangement that would have benefited both the federal government—which wanted Mohammad out of Canada— and Mohammad himself, who was seeking a country that would give him a new home. But with that failed effort behind them, the two sides were scheduled this week to resume their legal fight over Mohammad’s deportation order.

HILARY MACKENZIE in Ottawa