A model life, a model operative
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.
The bombings in Tanzania, above, and Kenya sparked retaliatory action by then-president Bill Clinton.
Essam Marzouk Mohamed Hafez