The Making of a Canadian Terrorist

From small-town boy to al-Qaeda assassin

August 22 2005

The Making of a Canadian Terrorist

From small-town boy to al-Qaeda assassin

August 22 2005

The Making of a Canadian Terrorist


The Maclean’s Excerpt

From small-town boy to al-Qaeda assassin

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation about the July bombings in London was that they were the work of homegrown terrorists. In The Martyr’s Oath (John Wiley & Sons), Canadian journalist Stewart Bell traces the path of one such terrorist, Canadian Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who grew up in St. Catharines, Ont., dreaming of becoming a doctor, and joined al-Qaeda in the months before 9/11. Captured before he could accomplish his first operations—attacks on the American and Israeli embassies in Singapore—Jabarah is an example of what intelligence services are calling the “newgeneration ofjihadists. ” They are the children ofmiddle-class immigrants to Europe and North America, and were either born or raised in the West. Educated and computer-literate, these recruits have much to offer their terrorist masters, including perfect English and Western passports. For the rest of us, they offer an enigma. In Bell’s words, Jabarah had “money, family, friends, security and a good education: so how did he become a terrorist?” Although he did not interview Jabarah, who has been in a U.S. prison since 2002, Bell spoke at length with his family, and had access to what Jabarah told CSIS and the FBI.

THOSE WHO KNEW Mohammed in St. Catharines recall him as quiet, respectful and polite. Jabarah’s father, Mansour, an Iraqi

Mohammed had first met him before moving to Canada. Since then, Abu Gaith had fought in

citizen who lived in Kuwait, who immigrated to Canada in 1994 when Mohammed was 12, was not a jihadist terrorist. He was keen for his four sons to become Canadians, but he also wanted them to maintain their Arab culture. Each year he would send the boys back to Kuwait to visit their relatives. Mansour and his wife Souad would stay in St. Catharines with the eldest and youngest, Abdullah and Youssef, while Mohammed and Abdul Rahman spent the summer in Kuwait City with family. During their trips, Mohammed and Abdul Rahman would meet up with their old friend from the Salwa neighbourhood, Anas Al Kandari, a student of Sulayman Abu Gaith, a Kuwaiti teacher and firebrand cleric who preached that fighting jihad was the duty of all Muslim men.

Bosnia and returned to Kuwait with videotapes of the fighting and training that had gone on there. In 1996, he showed the videos to Mohammed and Anas. Propaganda videos have long been one of al-Qaeda’s most effective recruiting tools. They stick to a simple formula. The opening will show images depicting the plight of Muslims around the world. “The wounds of the Muslims are deep everywhere,” Osama bin Laden says in one recruiting video. “The Crusaders and the Jews have joined together to invade the heart of Islam and occupy its holy places in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.” Next, the video explains the causes of this situation, concluding that if only Muslims would return to the Koran, everything would be fine. It ends with an impassioned exhortation to fight the Jews, the Americans and their allies.

ful of them drifted to Niagara.

Those who settled in the area included Abdellah Ouzghar and a few “jihadist returnees,” those who had fought in Islamic holy wars in Afghanistan and Bosnia and had come back home, where they served as role models for youngsters. Mohammed and Abdul Rahman began mingling with veterans of the holy wars in Afghanistan and Bosnia. They soaked it right up, and soon they were speaking the harsh rhetoric of jihad at the mosque.

Mohammed started raising money for Chechnya, much like his grandfather had raised money for Algerian fighters and Palestinians. That was an important milestone for Mohammed. Recruiters know that it is best to ease someone into terrorism, to start them out with duties that help the cause without killing. Terrorists recruited out of the West often start out as sympathizers. Their involvement begins in support organizations engaged in lawful advocacy, but over time they are pulled toward a radical, violent core, often with the help of a friend or family member. Next comes indirect involvement

The boys were hooked. When he was 16, Mohammed returned to Kuwait City for the summer in 1998. “During these years the idea of participating in jihad continued to grow steadily in him and his friend Al Kandari,” CSIS wrote. Seeing their devotion to the cause, Abu Gaith paid increasing attention to the friends. They were both ripe for recruitment, especially Mohammed, who was separated from his parents during his visits to Kuwait. Moreover, by the late 1990s, the Niagara region was becoming a magnet for Islamic extremists. Montreal and Toronto had long been the hubs of Canada’s Sunni terrorist networks, but in 1999, Fateh Kamel, the Algerian-Canadian leader of the Montreal jihadi organization was arrested in Jordan and sent to France to stand trial. Some associates of the Groupe Fateh Kamel sent letters to police threatening a biological or chemical weapons attack on the Montreal subway. The RCMP immigration task force arrested Kamel’s righthand man, Karim Atmani, and two of his associates, one of them an alleged gun dealer, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. The Dec. 14, 1999, arrest of another of Kamel’s men, Ahmed Ressam, as he tried to cross the Canadian border into Washington state with explosives in the trunk of his car, put even more pressure on the cell. Some of its members left Montreal to escape the heat; a hand-

The Maclean’s Excerpt | >

in violence, such as attending paramilitary training camps. That is followed by some rite of passage into the world of violence. In the case of al-Qaeda, this often used to involve spending time at the frontlines of the civil war against the anti-Taliban rebels in Afghanistan. Then comes the terrorist training, followed by an oath of allegiance to the leader and his cause and finally, a mission. These are the seven steps to hell. And Mohammed Jabarah was going all the way.

In his final year at high school, Mohammed made a deal with his father. If he finished school and got accepted into university, he would get a reward. Toward the end of the school year, Mohammed was accepted into St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia. His parents were thrilled. Mohammed told his father he knew what he wanted for his reward—one last trip home to Kuwait.

Entrusting young boys to Abu Gaith, Mohammed’s recruiter, was like leaving them in the care of a child molester. He exploited his position of authority to fulfill his own political fantasies of an Islamist uprising. He was a recruiter in the guise of a religious teacher. Instead of feeding the souls of his students responsibly, he planted the notion of jihad and martyrdom in their pliant young minds, and then helped them join al-Qaeda. He helped them cross the bridge between radical belief and radical violence.

training, mostly jogging. The recruits would shower, using well water, and have breakfast. Following the meal the students divided into study groups. They would sit for an hour of classroom instruction, then recline for a 45-minute nap. Prayers were at noon, followed by an hour-long lecture on the Koran. After lunch, it was chore time, which lasted until afternoon prayers.

Then the military training began.

Mohammed’s course was called Tahziri, which means the “beginning” or “preparation.” It was a basic training course, Weapons of War 101. Mohammed learned how to fire an AK-47, M-16, G-3, Klinkow, RBD, RBK, BK and Uzi; how to shoot a 9-mm Makarov; how to operate RPG-7, RPG-22 and RPG-18 disposable anti-tank weapons. And he was introduced to the Draganov sniper rifle. He soon found he had a unique talent for sniping. He was taught how to fire an anti-aircraft gun, and received instruction on the use of Sam-7 and Stinger missiles. There was training in explosives as well: TNT, C-4, C-3 and an array of techniques for detonating them, including matches, fuses, batteries. As part of their training, the recruits field-tested the explosives.

There was hand-grenade training, using Russian, Czech,

Chinese, Egyptian and American grenades. Mohammed


For some it was a death sentence.

When Kuwaiti authorities finally got wind of what Abu Gaith was preaching, he was banned from his mosque, but his followers remained loyal to him and his ideals. Mohammed started fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. “I think after the last trip to Kuwait, Mohammed changed. He became more religious than before,” Mansour says, “but at the same time he was a very good boy.” Mohammed continued watching videos of jihad, now those coming out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “He felt shamed about what had happened to his brothers in Palestine,” Mansour suggests. Mohammed was showing signs of intensifying belief, that he was being drawn deeper into the social isolation of the movement. Abu Gaith paid for Mohammed’s plane ticket to Karachi.

His jihad had begun.

AFTER MOHAMMED was smuggled over the Afghanistan border, he met up with his brother and friend and went with them to the Sheikh Shaheed Abu Yahya training camp. There were about 20 recruits altogether, all Kuwaitis and Saudis. The instructors were Fibyans. The training regimen was intense. Morning prayers started before dawn. That was followed by two hours of physical

learned how to bury anti-tank and anti-personnel land mines. ■

There was a two-week course on topography, in which re™ emits learned how to read military maps and navigate through mountains using only a compass and a rifle scope. Military train®

ing sessions were followed by the evening meal, then “jihad teachings.” At last the weary men would say their evening prayers at 8 p.m. and collapse into their tents—except for those assigned to guard duty, who had to stay up all night.

Few places in the world are as well suited to this kind of training and indoctrination. The isolation is the perfect environment for turning young men like Mohammed into terrorists. To be successful, radical leaders must convince their recruits to reject the present and look to an idealized future. They must make them believe that there is no joy in life, that pleasure is trivial, immoral even. This is not so simple in a Western city, where life is comfortable and good. But once the recruits were in the backward hinterlands of Afghanistan, it was easy to make the case that a better time was awaiting. The recruits—their days spent in harsh training, their nights in cold tents, all in pursuit of God’s agenda—lived such a harsh existence that their lives seemed but a small sacrifice.

The Jabarah brothers would phone home every week to 10

days, but they never said exactly where they were.

“Where are you?” Mansour recalls asking.

“We are okay. We are in a secure place, we are getting our courses,” Mohammed would tell his father.

“Don’t worry about us. We’re safe.”

“When are you coming back to us?”

“As soon as I finish my courses I will come back again.” Mohammed was mastering the AK-47. He did well at topography and orienteering as well. When he finished the course, he asked if he could go to the Taliban front. He had spent weeks training to fight. He wanted to test his skills in live combat. In December 2000, the Jabarah brothers went north to the Taliban frontlines and fought Massoud’s Northern Alliance rebels, who despised the Taliban and were stubbornly clinging to a small

patch of territory along the Tajikistan border. Two weeks in the trenches was enough. Abdul

would have to pledge bayat, the secret oath of allegiance. The concept of bayat dates back to the 6th century but was co-opted by alQaeda in the late 1980s. When al-Qaeda was created, bin Laden set out what he called the “requirements to enter al-Qaeda,” a final requirement was that prospective members had to read “the pledge” of loyalty, or bayat. The Mafia have a similar ritual called omertà. It’s an act of personal surrender, in which an individual places himself entirely in the hands of his leader, organization and cause. The original bayat, found by U.S. investigators in Bosnia, reads: “The pledge of God and His covenant is upon me, to listen and obey the superiors, who are doing this work, in energy, early rising, difficulty, and easiness, and for his superiority upon us, so that the word of God will be the highest, and His religion victorious.”

Jabarah was ready.

An appointment was arranged and he had an audience with the “Most Wanted” in Kandahar. They sat together, and Jabarah told bin Laden that he was ready to join al-Qaeda. He explained that he had excellent English language skills, a “clean” Canadian passport and that he had done well at his al-Qaeda training courses. Bin Laden was impressed. He told Jabarah that he must be ready to


for Kuwait while Mohammed returned

to Kabul to study the Koran and take a course on Islam.

Mohammed had impressed the al-Qaeda trainers. He was earning a reputation in Afghanistan, but his name was also beginning to surface in Canada. In February 2001, CSIS got its first tip about two Kuwait-born brothers who had been doing a lot of talking about jihad, hanging out with veteran Muslim fighters and raising money for Chechnya. CSIS started making preliminary inquiries about the Jabarah boys. Intelligence agents came to Mansour’s home in St. Catharines. They wanted to know what Abdul Rahman and Mohammed were doing in Pakistan. Had they crossed into Afghanistan? Did they attend any training camps? The agents returned repeatedly. “Where are they?” Mansour recalls one of the agents asking. “Why,” Mansour replied, “are you looking for my sons?”

AT SOME POINT, recruits had to make a critical choice: Were they willing to go all the way, to give themselves to Osama? If so, they

AFTER BEING SENT TO PAKISTAN, Jabarah was given $10,000 in cash for expenses in the first week of September, and told to proceed to Malaysia for his first mission. “Make sure,” he was warned by a senior al-Qaeda figure, “you leave before Tuesday.” The day after he left, Jabarah was in Hong Kong, watching the endless video loop of planes crashing into the Twin Towers. (Later, when photographs of the hijackers were shown, he recognized four of them as fellow al-Qaeda trainees he had met at a guesthouse in Kandahar that March.) Undeterred by the mass murder in New York, Jabarah carried on with the planning for the Singapore attacks: six truck bombs would explode simultaneously at locations around the city. Local jihadists would do the planning and preparations, but Arab suicide bombers would be brought in by Jabarah at the last minute to carry out the operation.

But Singapore investigators caught a local, one of the few who knew almost everything about the plot, and Jabarah had to

fight the “enemies of Allah, wherever they are,” and specifically mentioned the United States and the Jews. Osama then asked him to swear an oath to al-Qaeda, which Jabarah did.

He swore the martyr’s oath.

The Maclean’s Excerpt | >

flee. He eventually ended up in Oman, where he was captured by authorities. Two CSIS agents came to pick him up. Surprisingly, Jabarah spoke freely to them, and co-operated with CSIS in making a deal with the Americans—of testimony in exchange for leniency.

HE SLEEPS NO MORE than six hours a night. He spends his days exercising and studying. He has a daily fitness routine and passes the remaining hours reciting the Koran and reading books about history and Islam. Every few weeks, an official from the Canadian Consulate in New York stops by to visit him, and he complains about his imprisonment. The consular officials note that he looks well but remains discontented, and they send an update back to headquarters in Ottawa. When he first went into U.S. custody, at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, he was only 20 years old. In December 2004, he celebrated his 23rd birthday at MCC. He has stopped co-operating with the FBI. He talks only to his lawyer, the Canadian consular officials and his family, in the letters he writes home in neat Arabic script.

When I first read Mohammed’s letters, I expected to find some expressions of remorse. He clearly did wrong, but he did right in

the training and the motivation to become another mastermind.”

It has been four years now since his parents saw him last, the son who set off to follow his religion and got lost. He was led astray by the bottom feeders of politics, those who seek to advance their death-cult ideology by convincing the youth of the Muslim world to commit cold-blooded murder. They turned a handsome, educated and otherwise moral young man into a killer. Bin Laden sent Mohammed off to slaughter and die for the cause while he and his sidekick Al Zawahiri stayed hidden in caves along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier.

“I’m asking you this question,” Mansour tells me in our last discussion. “What Mohammed has done against Canada, which transferred him to the United States? And what Mohammed has done to the security of America?”

“He told CSIS,” I reply, “that he was involved in plans to blow up an embassy in Singapore.”

“Nothing happened!” Mansour says. “Mohammed has never done anything. I’m repeating, Mohammed has never done anything against the security, either Canada or America.”

“You don’t consider training in Afghanistan to be against Canada or America?” I say.


the end. He gave himself up and talked. These were signs of a young man who had come to his senses. Freed from the grip of al-Qaeda, he had snapped out of it, outgrown his youthful experiment with jihadism. Or so I thought. But when I was shown his dispatches from prison, I did not get that sense at all. His letters ooze with bitterness. They are filled with the rhetoric of his al-Qaeda masters, about “believers” and “infidels” and not being “bitten by the snake twice.” He writes spitefully about his interrogators, and signs his letters using his al-Qaeda name, Abu Hafs.

What happened? Maybe the shock of losing his best friend and then his brother—the first during an attack on Kuwait-based American Marines, the second in a shoot-out with Saudi forces—snapped him back into his holy warrior persona. Mohammed’s mistake may have been to misjudge the severity of the charges he would face. If he surrendered himself to the United States thinking he was going to get off with a slap on the wrist, he was badly mistaken. But the agreement he negotiated and signed suggests he was hardly duped. And Jabarah is not a stupid young man. “Mohammed Mansour Jabarah is one of the most intelligent terrorists we have seen,” says Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based scholar and renowned al-Qaeda expert who knows the case intimately. “He had the education, the contacts,

“No,” Mansour says. “Why? A lot of people trained in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in different parts of the world.”

There are a lot of things we still don’t know about Mohammed Jabarah, but we know enough to say that he joined a despicable cause and devoted himself to it. We also know that he did not do so entirely on his own. He was lured down that path every step of the way, beginning at a criminally young age.

There is, however, no turning back for those who have pledged the martyr’s oath.

“I’m trying my best,” Mansour says.

“This is our dream now. We lost one. We lost Abdul Rahman without any reason and we don’t want to lose Mohammed now.”

Later, a letter arrives at my office from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Inside is the Inmate Data sheet for prisoner 06909-091. It is a printout of Mohammed Jabarah’s file in the prison computer system.

Under the heading, Projected Release Date, the sheet reads, “UNKNOWN.” CT1

Excerpted from The Martyr’s Oath by Stewart Bell. Copyright © 2005 by Stewart Bell. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley &Sons Canada Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.