A model life, a model oper­a­tive

National Post (Latest Edition) - - C A N A D A -

Al­though lit­tle was known about bin Laden’s al-Qaeda at the time, there was a dawn­ing re­al­iza­tion that the more zeal­ous of the Is­lamic “holy war­riors” that had bat­tled the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan in the 1980s were turn­ing against the West in dan­ger­ous ways.

The CSIS of­fi­cers were sus­pi­cious of Mar­zouk and put him un­der sur­veil­lance. They fol­lowed, lis­tened and watched. But he did noth­ing un­to­ward.

Mar­zouk had been ar­rested upon his ar­rival in Canada, af­ter Cus­toms in­spec­tors found his cache of forged doc­u­ments, but the charges were later dropped.

As soon as his refugee claim had been ac­cepted, he ap­plied for per­ma­nent res­i­dence, but first he had to clear his CSIS se­cu­rity screen­ing.

CSIS of­fi­cers in­ter­viewed Mar­zouk at a fed­eral of­fice build­ing in down­town Van­cou­ver. They showed him a Time mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle about the World Trade Cen­ter bomb­ing and pointed to the pho­to­graphs of the sus­pects.

“Do you know that per­son?” the intelligence of­fi­cers asked.

“Have you ever met that per­son?”

“Have you heard of that per­son?”

Mar­zouk de­nied know­ing any of them and main­tained he had only been an am­bu­lance driver with the Red Cres­cent So­ci­ety in Pak­istan dur­ing the Afghan war, his for­mer lawyer Phil Rankin re­called.

“I thought ba­si­cally be­cause he was young, ap­par­ently he had some mil­i­tary train­ing, that that was their big deal, that he fit a profile — and be­cause he had come with all that ID,” Mr. Rankin said.

The sur­veil­lance turned up lit­tle worth for­ward­ing to head­quar­ters in Ottawa, nor did some 300 in­ter­views.

An al-Qaeda train­ing camp in­struc­tor named Ali Mohamed had made re­peated vis­its to Van­cou­ver to meet Mar­zouk. But Mohamed’s in­volve­ment with bin Laden, the Egyp­tian Al Ji­had ter­ror­ist group and a plot to bomb the Amer­i­can em­bassies in East Africa were, at that time, not known to CSIS.

Mar­zouk like­wise skil­fully hid his past but in­ves­ti­ga­tors now be­lieve they know his se­cret: be­tween 1988 and 1993, he was a train­ing camp in­struc­tor and a mem­ber of an Arab fight­ing fac­tion led by Ay­man Al Zawahiri, one of the world’s most wanted ter­ror­ists.

By 1998, Mar­zouk had started his own busi­ness in sub­ur­ban Sur­rey, B.C. To­gether with his friend, Amer Hamed, he launched 4-U En­ter­prises. They even had busi­ness cards printed.

Hamed was also an Egyp­tian and, like Mar­zouk, an ath­lete. He had played on the Egyp­tian na­tional bas­ket­ball team be­fore cross­ing into Canada at La­colle, Que., and mak­ing his way from Mon­treal to the West.

Hamed and Mar­zouk were close, and se­ri­ous about their faith. Some­times they would dis­ap­pear into the bush for days to re­cite the Ko­ran in the awe­some soli­tude of the Coast Moun­tains.

In ret­ro­spect, Mar­zouk’s be­hav­iour was text­book pro­ce­dure for Al Ji­had, the Egyp­tian wing of al- Qaeda. Al Ji­had op­er­a­tives hid­ing in the West be­haved per­fectly be­cause they had been told to. Fol­low­ing the war in Afghanistan, they were in­structed to go some­where safe and lay low — for now.

Mar­zouk’s ef­forts to gain Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship, how­ever, were bogged down over un­re­solved con­cerns about his past. CSIS re­mained sus­pi­cious and would not ap­prove the se­cu­rity clear­ance he needed to be­come a full-fledged per­ma­nent res­i­dent of Canada.

His wife, Yasmien, grew im­pa­tient over the de­lay, at one point com­ing to Mr. Rankin’s of­fice and blast­ing him over why her hus­band was not yet “landed.”

Their mar­riage soon foundered. Yasmien and Mar­zouk had a child but she found him too se­cre­tive, among other things, and they di­vorced.

The call to arms came in 1998.

The in­creas­ingly fa­nat­i­cal bin Laden is­sued his in­fa­mous fat­wah in Fe­bru­ary, 1998, pro­claim­ing on be­half of the “In­ter­na­tional Is­lamic Front for Ji­had on the Jews and Cru­saders” that Mus­lims should kill Amer­i­cans and their al­lies, wher­ever they could be found.

The fat­wah, or re­li­gious rul­ing, was pub­lished in May in the news­pa­per Al- Quds al-Ara­biya, and a few days later bin Laden staged a news con­fer­ence in Afghanistan to re­peat his call to mur­der.

That month, Mar­zouk sold off his com­pany as­sets and left B.C. with his friend Hamed. But first, he stopped in Scar­bor­ough, Ont., at a small brick house on Khartoum Cres­cent.

That visit raised eye­brows among in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­cause it was the same house where the Egyp­tian- Cana­dian ter­ror­ist Ahmed Khadr, an­other mem­ber of Zawahiri’s cir­cle, lived when he was in town.

In ad­di­tion, au­thor­i­ties be­lieve that when he was at the house, Mar­zouk met with an Egyp­tian ter­ror sus­pect named Mohamed Mahjoub, an al­leged mem­ber of an Al Ji­had fac­tion called Van­guards of Con­quest.

(Mahjoub de­nied meet­ing Mar­zouk. A Fed­eral Court judge said he was ly­ing and or­dered his de­por­ta­tion on the grounds that his in­volve­ment in ter­ror­ism was a threat to Canada’s se­cu­rity.)

Mar­zouk flew to Turkey, where au­thor­i­ties be­lieve he met an al­leged Egyp­tian ex­trem­ist named Ah­mad Agiza. Then he flew back to east­ern Afghanistan, the hub of bin Laden’s train­ing camp net­work.

Dur­ing the war against the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan, Mar­zouk had learned the art of man­u­fac­tur­ing im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices. He had also been a train­ing camp in­struc­tor.

Those two skills, it turned out, were just what bin Laden needed. In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve Mar­zouk was as­signed to train two men, a Saudi and an Egyp­tian, who were be­ing pre­pared for a sui­cide bomb­ing mis­sion.

One of the trainees was be­ing sent to blow up the U.S. em­bassy in Kenya; the other was to hit the U. S. em­bassy in Tan­za­nia. The plot had be­gun years ear­lier as bin Laden’s re­venge for U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in So­ma­lia, but since then it had grown to be­come the open­ing salvo of his newly pro­claimed world ji­had.

Mar­zouk al­legedly taught his stu­dents how to man­u­fac­ture ex­plo­sives. In July, he trav­elled to Nairobi to help with the fi­nal prepa­ra­tions for the truck bomb­ings. The ter­ror­ists had rented homes in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and bought a white Suzuki Samu­rai and other trucks. The Kenya bombers, Mohamed Al- Owhali and Az­zam, made a video­taped mar­tyr­dom state­ment.

Early on the morn­ing of Au­gust 7, hours be­fore the at­tacks, a writ­ten claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity was sent from an Al Ji­had cell in Baku, Azer­bai­jan, to Lon­don. Ev­ery­thing was set to go.

Az­zam and Al- Owhali be­gan their as­sault in Nairobi at 10:30 a.m. by toss­ing a stun grenade at the se­cu­rity guards and then open­ing fire with a hand­gun.

Hear­ing the clam­our, em­bassy work­ers had rushed to their win­dows. It was a nat­u­ral re­ac­tion, and one that would prove fa­tal.

When Az­zam det­o­nated the bomb, the win­dows shat­tered into mil­lions of frag­ments that pierced ev­ery­thing in their path. More than 200 were killed, and 4,500 were in­jured.

Ten min­utes later, the truck bomb in Dar es Salaam ex­ploded. But the dam­age was not as ex­ten­sive.

A wa­ter truck was block­ing the en­trance to the em­bassy com­pound, so the bombers were not able to get close. The death toll there was 12, with 85 in­jured.

As the Dar es Salaam em­bassy smoul­dered, one of the ter­ror­ists paused to record the re­sults of his work for pos­ter­ity. He aimed his cam­era out the win­dow of his Suzuki truck and snapped pho­to­graphs of the hu­man car­nage.

Al­to­gether, 264 were killed that day, a death toll that would go un­sur­passed un­til three years later, when bin Laden would take his ter­ror cam­paign to New York on 9/ 11.

Bin Laden’s in­volve­ment was quickly de­ter­mined, and two weeks later U. S. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton or­dered mis­sile strikes against ter­ror­ist camps in Afghanistan. When one of the Tom­a­hawk mis­siles landed near Khost, Mar­zouk’s friend Amer Hamed was stand­ing in the kill ra­dius.

“ He was cut into pieces,” Ab­du­rah­man Khadr, the Cana­dian son of Ahmed Khadr and him­self a train­ing camp vet­eran, tes­ti­fied later in Fed­eral Court in Mon­treal.

“So I had to col­lect his pieces off the ground and that is what built rage in my heart. So that day I hated Amer­ica as ever.”

That night, in a tele­vised ad­dress from the Oval Of­fice, Mr. Clin­ton ex­plained his de­ci­sion to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and braced them for a lengthy war against ter­ror.

“ We will not yield to this threat,” he said. “ We will meet it no mat­ter how long it will take. This will be a long, on­go­ing strug­gle be­tween free­dom and fa­nati­cism, be­tween the rule of law and ter­ror­ism.”

His mis­sion ac­c­com­plished but his best friend dead, Mar­zouk left Afghanistan and flew to the United Arab Emi­rates, then to Europe, per­haps in­tend­ing to re­turn to Canada, but au­thor­i­ties be­lieve he pan­icked and went back to Dubai be­fore mak­ing his way to Azer­bai­jan.

In the cap­i­tal Baku, he hooked up with Egyp­tian Al Ji­had op­er­a­tives Ihab Saqr and Ahmed Salama Mabrouk.

Al Ji­had had a strong base in Azer­bai­jan, but the em­bassy bomb­ings had un­leashed an ag­gres­sive in­ter­na­tional man­hunt for those re­spon­si­ble — one that even Mar­zouk would not evade for long.

AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

The bomb­ings in Tan­za­nia, above, and Kenya sparked re­tal­ia­tory ac­tion by then-pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

Es­sam Mar­zouk Mohamed Hafez

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