Canadian terror probe against 19 Pakistanis falling apart
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The Canadian immigration authorities’ anti-terror operation, codenamed Project Thread, against 21 suspects at least 19, if not 20, of whom are Pakistanis, is in tatters as security-related charges were dropped against six more of the arrested men on Thursday.
The six included a student pilot who was said to have been “scouting out” the Pickering nuclear plant near Toronto. An immigration tribunal released the pilot, Indian Muslim Anwar-Ur-Rehman Mohammed (31) on a $25,000 bail after government counsel Stephanie MacKay announced that security allegations had been dropped against him. Mohammed, who attended the 30-day detention hearing via a video linkup from jail, seemed to bend over and pray as tribunal head Robert Murrant considered his release for about 10 minutes. He burst into tears after he was told he had been freed.
He is the ninth person against whom authorities have dropped security concerns as they have found no evidence to support their original accusation. Ten others have been taken out of the public forum, presumably because they have now become private, refugee-claim matters.
According to The Star, Muslim groups and opposition parties in Ottawa were quick on Thursday to call on the federal government to launch an inquiry into the case, saying that it contained egregious elements of racial profiling, poor investigational protocols and human rights violations. “There is some serious explaining to do and a parliamentary committee should be taking this up,” said Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, who characterised the round-ups as the result of faulty federal security legislation brought in after 9/11. “If we don’t nip this kind of activity in the bud, it simply swoops people up off the street with no good reason, leaves them with a tarnished reputation, traumatised and with major personal and family setbacks.” He warned that such sweeps could alienate the entire Muslim community.
Canadian Alliance immigration critic Diane Ablonczy said the government’s “bull in a china shop” tactics could undermine attempts to fight terrorism, making it “less likely ... that they would be pro-active in other cases.” Community activist Pakistan-born Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress said he viewed Project Thread as “a very serious error” made in trying to placate US security officials. He said an inquiry should look into the role the RCMP played in the probe, which distanced itself from the security allegations only on August 27.
A lawyer for nine of the 21 suspects caught last month in a so-called terrorism dragnet, including some refugee claimants, said national security concerns were no longer an element in any of the Project Thread files. “The whole thing is coming undone,” defence lawyer Tariq Shah told The Star newspaper. “They’re dropping the security concerns from all of the men.”
Immigration Minister Denis Coderre told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that he would not comment on Mohammed’s case, even though he represented a key link in the faltering Thread probe. “This is a case where I’m not going to intervene because there’s already a process,” Coderre said. “But every time that we have enough ground to act, we’re doing (that) in consequence. I feel that my officials did the right thing by doing what they’ve done and we’ll let the inquiry go through,” according to the Canadian daily.
Immigration Department spokesperson Giovanna Gatti would not say in a conversation with The Star how many of the Project Thread suspects have had security-threat allegations dropped from their files, but added that the cases were ongoing. She said allegations originally made in the cases heard so far had been “alleviated”. She did not, however, concede that the cases should not have been brought up in the first place. “We had reasonable suspicion, (and) whenever you have reasonable suspicion it is our duty to investigate.”
Besides Mohammed, Fahim Kayani was ordered released on a $2,000 performance bond, while Jahan Sawnhey was set free on a $5,000 cash bond. A pharmacist whose wife and child remain in India, Mohammed was a key suspect in the Thread probe, with his Pickering over flights and incomplete pilot training conjuring up comparisons to 9/11 terrorist plotters.
Federal officials are now relying on far more commonplace immigration violations to prosecute the probe suspects, who are all Muslims.