Torture. Ever since three Arab Canadians were placed in a Syrian dungeon the year after the September, 2001, attacks, a curtain has painstakingly been pulled back on the secret world of international counterterrorism and intelligence work. Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmad Abou El Maati. Their names stay in the news headlines because of what happened to them. They were charged with no crime, unjustly described as Islamic extremists or imminent threats to Canada. How did this happen? Below is the most comprehensive timeline that seeks to answer that question, and also provides historical context as to how several men of very different backgrounds came to be lumped together as common suspects. It is the culmination of years of work by The Globe and Mail‘s Colin Freeze. Embedded in this dynamic Web timeline are inquiry findings, court documents, search warrants and chronologies. They illustrate how events nearly 20 years ago have a bearing to this day.
Click and drag the timeline to move through the events from 1989 to 2009, click on the photos of the five men to pull up their individual stories, and click on the event markers to read more. To keep your place on the timeline as you view supporting documents, right-click on the hyperlinks of supporting materials and open them in a new window.
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi
Developments in the Global “War on Terror”
Key quote: “I have never been anywhere near Afghanistan.”
Profession: Telecommunications engineer
The suspicion: Seen as a peripheral “person of interest" or “potential witness” in an RCMP investigation.
Legal status: Awarded a $10-million compensation package from the Canadian government after it admitted circulating wrongful and highly damaging mischaracterizations of Mr. Arar.
There is “no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada,” ruled Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor.
Mr. Arar was spotted talking with Abdullah Almalki a year prior to being flown to a Middle East jail aboard a CIA Gulfstream jet.
Key quote: “I never sold or dealt with Afghanistan related to any type of equipment.”
The suspicion: “procurement official”
Legal status: Investigated by RCMP, CSIS and FBI, but never charged. Tortured in Syria.
Recent developments: Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci held Canadian officials “indirectly” responsible for Mr. Almalki's torture because they mischaracterized him: “The words ‘imminent threat’ in particular were inflammatory, inaccurate, and lacking investigative foundation.”
Profession: Mechanic, trucker, entrepreneur and recreational pilot
The suspicion: Never defined
Legal status: Investigated by RCMP and CSIS but never charged with a crime, nor arrested anywhere.
Mr. Alzahabi is the brother of Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, a former Afghan training-camp instructor. (The brothers use different transliterations of their surname.)
Ahmad Abou El Maati
Key quote: “All my problems started with that map.”
Profession: Toronto truck driver
The suspicion: Al-Qaeda member
Legal status: Investigated by the RCMP and CSIS, but never charged with a crime. Tortured in Syria and Egypt.
Recent developments: Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci held Canadian officials “indirectly” responsible for his torture because they mischaracterized him: “The RCMP's use of the term ‘imminent threat’ in correspondence with foreign agencies, especially countries like Syria and Egypt ... was deficient in the circumstances.”
The trucker is the brother of Amer el Maati, an Afghanistan-based man, being sought by the FBI.
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi
Lebanese-born U.S. resident
Key quote: “I have chosen to answer their questions in hopes of assuring them I do not pose a threat to the United States.”
Profession: Alleged sharpshooter and training-camp instructor in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Chechnya. Truck, cab and school-bus driver in Minneapolis and Boston.
The suspicion: In 2004, the FBI viewed him as a possible sleeper agent or cash courier.
Legal status: Convicted only of immigration fraud.
Recent developments: Fighting removal to an undisclosed country while jailed in El Paso. He has spent nearly five years in high-security prisons following 17 days of voluntary interviews with the FBI.
The FBI alleges he is an associate of Abu Zubaydah, the so-called “emir of the Khalden training camp” now jailed in Guantanamo Bay.