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Bin Laden’s B. C. helper



They were the deadliest al-Qaeda bombings of the 1990s, and the attacks that ignited the war on terror. Today, in the first of three parts, the story of a quiet British Columbia man who was a key behind-the-scenes player in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in East Africa. At

10:30 on a Friday morning,

a truck slowed in front of the U.S. embassy in downtown Nairobi and Mohamed Al-Owhali jumped out and tossed a stun grenade at the security guard.

Behind the steering wheel, his partner Azzam opened fire with a handgun, shooting wildly out the driver’s window as he manoeuvred the explosive-laden rig as close as possible to the target.

Seven hundred kilometres away, a similar scene was unfolding outside the U.S. embassy in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam. It was August 7, 1998, and all hell was about the break loose.

The bombers executed their mission with cold precision. They had been well-trained by Osama bin Laden’s men, in particular a 29-year-old Egyptian Al Jihad operative code-named Adnan, a tall, devout businessma­n — from Canada.

Adnan’s real name was Essam Mohamed Hafez Marzouk. Sixfootwit­h a short beard and thinning black hair, he was by outward appearance­s a model citizen — courteous, observant and athletic.

The son of a well-off Cairo businessma­n, he grew up in the upscale El Mohandesee­n neighbourh­ood, in a fifth floor apartment at 2 Doctor El-Mahroky Street.

Following his discharge from the Egyptian military, he spent much of his spare time working out. At the gym, he met a man who told him about the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanista­n and how to join it.

Intrigued, Marzouk told his father he was going to the United States to study. Instead, he travelled to Pakistan as a volunteer for the Red Crescent Society and later the Muslim World League.

Marzouk claimed he never crossed the Pakistan frontier into Afghanista­n and only went to the border to pick up the wounded and deliver them to hospital.

But investigat­ors believe he was a member of an Arab fighting faction and part of a circle of Egyptian Islamic militants that included Al Jihad leader Ayman Al Zawahiri and Canadian Ahmed Khadr.

He was also a training camp instructor and learned how to make improvised explosive devices. But by 1993, the fighting was over and the volunteer Arab fighters began to move to safer locations. Bin Laden went to Sudan.

Marzouk got a couple of fake passports and flew to Khartoum on May 23, 1993, then to Damascus and Frankfurt, where he boarded Lufthansa Flight 492 for Canada.

On June 16, 1993, a man calling himself “Fawzi Alharbi” walked off an airplane at Vancouver Internatio­nal Airport at 3:30 p.m. dressed as an Arab sheikh and handed a Saudi passport to the Canada Customs inspector.

At the baggage carousel, a roving Customs officer named Gordon Peterson pulled “ Alharbi” aside for a chat. Mr. Peterson soon grew suspicious. He noted inconsiste­ncies in the Saudi’s story and ordered a search of his luggage.

In his suitcase, the inspectors found a brown paper bag filled with ID with “ Alharbi’s” photo but different names — an Egyptian passport, a New York identity card, an Egyptian military service record and a Pakistani student card.

An RCMP constable looked at the documents and noted the obvious giveaway: the passport described “ Alharbi” as 5-foot-3, while this man stood almost a foot taller. “ Alharbi” responded that he must have grown.

Police noticed a man was waiting at the airport for “ Alharbi.” His name was Ali Mohamed and he had come from California to meet his friend.

Mohamed was questioned and let go, but “ Alharbi” was arrested and charged with three counts related to his fake identifica­tion. By then, however, police had establishe­d “ Alharbi” was in fact a 24-year-old Egyptian named Essam Marzouk.

Canadian investigat­ors did not know it then, but Marzouk’s friend Mohamed was actually a member of the terrorist group Egyptian Al Jihad. The year before, he had been in Afghanista­n, teaching basic military and explosives training at an al-Qaeda camp.

Six months after Marzouk landed in Vancouver, Mohamed was back in Khartoum, where bin Laden was planning the next phase of his expanding jihad. Bin Laden sent Mohamed to Nairobi to look for worthy targets.

Mohamed scouted the U. S. embassy, U.S. Aid headquarte­rs, the U. S. Agricultur­al Office, the French embassy and cultural centre, as well as British and Israeli buildings.

“I took pictures, drew diagrams and wrote a report,” he told a New York judge later, adding the targets were chosen as revenge for U.S. military interventi­on in Somalia.

“I later went to Khartoum, where my surveillan­ce files and photograph­s were reviewed by Osama bin Laden, Abu Hafs [alQaeda’s late military chief], Abu Ubaidah [also dead] and others.

“Bin Laden looked at the picture of the American embassy and pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber.”

His reconnaiss­ance mission complete, Mohamed returned to Vancouver to help Marzouk, who was still imprisoned. Bin Laden was also concerned about Marzouk. Upon hearing that Marzouk was in jail, he gave Mohamed US$3,000 to post bail.

Marzouk was charged with using a forged document, fraud and illegally entering Canada, but from behind bars he applied for refugee status, claiming he feared religious and political persecutio­n in Egypt.

His story was that he had gone to Pakistan as a volunteer to help Afghan refugees but that the Pakistani intelligen­ce service had begun rounding up Egyptians and sending them home to face arrest and torture as part of a crackdown against Islamic militants.

“He was very polite and respectful and easy to get along with,” recalled Phil Rankin, the Vancouver lawyer who helped Marzouk make his case to Canada’s refugee board.

“The general impression I had of him was very favourable in the sense that he obviously came from a well-to-do family and had very good manners,” Mr. Rankin said. “He was very poised.”

During his refugee hearings, Marzouk maintained he had only driven an ambulance in Pakistan and that he had never set foot in Afghanista­n. He even brought forward a witness to support his claim: Mohamed, who told the refugee judges that Marzouk was nothing more than a humanitari­an aid worker.

During breaks, Mr. Rankin would sometimes find Marzouk in the men’s room, praying toward Mecca. Following two days of hearings, his refugee claim was approved on Dec. 12, 1994.

As for the criminal charges, Marzouk’s lawyer argued they should be dropped since he was a refugee and could not be faulted for using false ID to flee persecutio­n. That argument was tossed out, but Mr. Rankin appealed to the B. C. Supreme Court and won.

Marzouk was set free ( Mr. Rankin said he does not recall whether Mohamed paid Marzouk’s bail), but he had no place to live, no money and spoke very little English, so Mr. Rankin brought him home to live with his family — something he rarely did.

“He stayed with me for about a week,” he said. “I noticed he was religious because the first thing he wanted to know when he got home was, ‘Where’s Mecca?’ ”

Although fussy about his food and horrified by the family dog, Marzouk was a gracious houseguest. Mr. Rankin was so certain his client was harmless that he let him babysit his son.

But the Canadian intelligen­ce investigat­ors looking into Marzouk’s past were beginning to wonder: Was it possible he was a terrorist?

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 ??  ?? When he was pulled aside by a Canada Customs officer at Vancouver Internatio­nal Airport on June 16, 1993, Essam Mohamed Hafez Marzouk was carrying a brown paper bag filled with false ID.
When he was pulled aside by a Canada Customs officer at Vancouver Internatio­nal Airport on June 16, 1993, Essam Mohamed Hafez Marzouk was carrying a brown paper bag filled with false ID.

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