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The Montreal terror connection

[PoliticsWatch posted 5:40 p.m. July 10, 2006]

Assem Hammoud's mother says he's a playboy who was a drinker, but Lebanese officials say he has confessed to plotting a terror attack in New York.. 

OTTAWA  — Canada is back in the international headlines again for the wrong reasons.  

Over the weekend, a spokesperson for Concordia University confirmed that a Lebanese man arrested as the mastermind of  a sensational alleged terror plot to blow up trains in tunnels under New York's Hudson River and flood lower Manhattan was an international student at the university. 

Assem Hammoud, 31, studied at Concordia University in Montreal for seven years beginning in 1995 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in commerce in 2002.

Up until his recent arrest, he was a teacher at Lebanese International University. 

Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said on the weekend that Hammoud admitted that he was planning to go to Pakistan for training on the operation in New York.

But Hammoud's mother is denying her son is a radical terrorist.

Nabila Qotob told reporters that her son couldn't have been a terrorist because he was having too much fun dating, drinking alcohol and driving his red convertible.

She even gave reporters pictures of her son, including one of him posing in sunglasses with women in Canada. 

A terrorism expert tells PoliticsWatch that it's hard to judge a book just by its cover. 

"In general, the basic presentation and affects . . . doesn't tell us anything," said David Harris, senior fellow for national security at the Canadian Coalition for Democracies. 

"On the one hand, one might argue that his presentation and style would not be the behaviour of a fundamentalist, a radical Islamic individual much less a terrorist or fanatic on that level. On the other hand it could represent somebody who is camouflaging his true inclinations and identity as a devout fundamentalist bordering on radical extremist."

The revelation of Canadian involvement in the plot comes a little more than a month after 17 men and youths were arrested in the Toronto area in another sensational alleged plot, whose targets included Canadian landmarks such as the CN Tower. 

Since then, Canadian officials, including Canada's ambassador to Washington, have been trying to downplay the perception south of the border that Canada is a haven for radical Islamic activity. 

Last month, Michael Wilson and the heads of CSIS and the RCMP went to Washington to visit congressional offices to set the record straight about the Canadian border and immigration laws.

“There are some things that have been said in the media that have not been accurate. So we want to address those head-on,” Wilson said at the time.

Among the so-called myths Wilson is trying to bust is the misconception that the 9-11 hijackers came through Canada. 

While the 9-11 hijackers did not come through Canada, the special 9-11 Commission did find links to two individuals who had spent time in Canada. 

And just like Hammoud and Millenium Bomber Ahmed Ressam, both of the men mentioned in the 9-11 Commission's report had a Montreal connection. 

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who the 9-11 commission described as "a significant al Qaeda operative," reportedly recruited three of the hijackers while in Germany.  

Slahi is alleged to be part of a Montreal cell associated with the GIA, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and whose members included Ressam. 

He became a part-time imam of a mosque in Montreal before moving to Germany. He is currently being held in Guantanamo Bay and the National Post recently reported that Slahi is believed to have asked U.S. authorities to return him to Canada. 

The other Montreal connection to 9-11 is Abderraouf Jdey, who became a Canadian citizen in 1995. 

According to the 9-11 Commission, Jdey was recruited by Osama bin Laden to take part in 9-11 or some other attack. 

"A tenth individual, a Tunisian with Canadian citizenship named
Abderraouf Jdey, may have been a candidate to participate in 9/11, or he may
have been a candidate for a later attack," the 9-11 Commission concluded.

"These candidate hijackers either backed out, had trouble obtaining needed travel documents, or were removed from the operation by the Al Qaeda leadership."

Shortly after 9-11, notes proclaiming his martyrdom were found in Jdey's Montreal home and a similar message was found on videotape recovered in the rubble of Al-Qaeda's Mohammad Atef's Kabul home. Jdey's whereabouts are still unknown.

A Beirut television station reported that Hammoud was recruited into Al-Qaeda not in the Mid-East but while studying in Montreal. 

Harris says it's no coincidence that terrorists are attracted to Montreal. 

He said there are many factors that appeal to numerous strains of international jihadists, including the ease with which French North African Islamic extremists can move around and blend in and the city's proximity to the United States, the biggest target for global jihadists. 

"With or without any further convictions on terror-related offences, Montreal is a hub of international Islamic extremist terror," he added.

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