Hani Abdel Rahim al-Sayegh is not an imposing presence. The Saudi Arabian man sitting behind bars in a maximum security Ottawa prison is slightly built and barely five feet, eight inches tall. Even with his studious glasses and dark moustache, he looks far younger than his 28 years. Overall, Sayegh hardly resembles the cold-blooded international terrorist that authorities on two continents allege him to be. And he flatly denies that he had anything to do with the June 25, 1996, truck bombing of a U.S. military complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans and injured 500 others, both Americans and Saudis. But authorities in Washington think the unassuming bombing suspect, who arrived in Canada last August, holds the key to the burning question of whether there was a foreign link to the blast.
And what Sayegh says on that matter could g ignite another Middle =
Beyond maintaining | that he was in Syria at | the time of the bombing,
Sayegh has been mostly S silent since RCMP and Site of 1996 Saudi Canadian department of immigration officers, acting on a tip, arrested him in an Ottawa convenience store on March 18. But according to court documents filed last week, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service contends he staked out the U.S. apartment complex and guided the explosives-laden truck to the grounds on the day of the blast. Ottawa wants him deported from Canada as a security threat. Now, it is up to a public hearing slated for April 28 to determine whether he must go.
Outside of Canada he is a wanted man. Normally, deportees are sent back to their country of citizenship. But Sayegh justifiably fears for his life if returned to Saudi Arabia, where terrorists are beheaded. That may mean he will end up in the United States, which is preparing documents to apply through Canada’s department of justice to have him extradited as a material witness. Access to Sayegh would be a major coup for the FBI, which so far has not been allowed access to any of the 40 suspects—all mem-
bers of Saudi Arabia’s minority Shiite Muslim population—arrested there in connection to the bombing. Moreover, it could provide compelling proof of a suspicion held by some Saudi and American officials that the bombing was perpetrated by Saudi Shiite Muslims supported by neighboring Middle Eastern governments.
Sayegh’s arrest, after all, is apparently based on contacts he had with Iranian diplomats in Canada and on wiretaps of conversations he had with individuals in Iran during which he reportedly made oblique
references to the bombing. And far from Ottawa last week, American diplomats were trying to get to the bottom of another mystery surrounding the bombing—the suspicious suicide of a key suspect who fled to Syria after the incident and died in a Syrian prison cell the day before a Saudi team was scheduled to interrogate him.
Establishing a foreign link could have lifeor-death consequences. Soon after the bombing, America’s then-Secretary of Defence, William Perry, said that if the United States discovered that another country was behind the attack, it would respond with “appropriate action.” Translation: Iran, Syria or both countries could face a U.S. retaliatory military strike if they are implicated in the blast. And the key to the whole convoluted drama could be sitting in an Ottawa jail cell, waiting for the next act.
JOHN DeMONT in Ottawa with WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.