What do you do when a jihadi comes home?

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Posted by Al Gordon on 23:17:45 2005/03/04

What do you do when a jihadi comes home?

Stewart Bell

National Post

Friday, March 04, 2005

Fateh Kamel was every bit the devoted jihadist. He spent the better part of the 1990s travelling the world fighting his holy war -- to Afghanistan, Malaysia, Bosnia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France. In Montreal, he led a ring of Islamic militants, among them Ahmed Ressam.

"I'm not afraid of dying and killing doesn't frighten me," the Algerian-born Canadian once said in one of several conversations recorded by Italian counterterrorist police. "If I have to press the remote control, vive the jihad!"

Then in 1999, Kamel made a fateful error. Following a pilgrimage to Mecca, he flew to Amman, perhaps not realizing the Jordanians were on good terms with the French, who were after him for his role in various terrorist plots.

He was arrested and sent to Paris, put on trial, convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. And then, on Jan. 29, 2005, the French set him free for good behaviour and he flew home to Montreal.

It may be that Kamel is a reformed terrorist, that during his empty days of imprisonment, separated from his wife and son, he saw the error of his convictions. Maybe he has abandoned the jihad. Maybe he is a retired terrorist.

But what if he isn't?

It is a question that Canada and its allies are going to have to start asking because there are going to be a lot more Fateh Kamels in the coming years. International terrorists are increasingly being recruited out of the West and, if they don't get the martyrdom they claim to seek, one day they are going to come home. And then what do we do with them?

For the past 20 years, Canada has dealt with captured foreign terrorists by deporting them to their countries of origin, or at least trying to. But in the past few years there has been a shift in the types of people joining the ranks of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. They are no longer just Saudis or Yemenis or Pakistanis; they are also Britons, French, Germans, Australians, Americans and Canadians.

In testimony to a parliamentary committee last week, Dale Neufeld, the Deputy Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), called this one of "the real trends that we see in this country, and our allies see it as well. It's the second generation, it's the children of Muslims who are born in this country, have a very normal upbringing, according to our analysis, but at some point in their teenage years or young twenties, they decide that radical Islam is the path that they want to take."

He cited the case of Momin Khawaja, the Canadian-born Ottawa computer expert who was arrested last year on charges that he was part of a group plotting to detonate an ammonium nitrate bomb in the United Kingdom. "They didn't come from battle-hardened Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Chechnya. These were people who had pretty normal upbringings in a very democratic country, and decided at some point to go down that path."

How are authorities to deal with these homegrown terrorists? They cannot be deported. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 allows for jail terms for those actually convicted of terrorism; but what happens when those sentences are served, or when Canadian terrorists captured abroad come home?

When most criminals have completed their jail terms, they are released and presumed innocent. Terrorists, however, are not ordinary criminals. Many are graduates of training camps where they were taught the art of mass murder and indoctrinated into a set of beliefs that advocate the killing of Westerners as God's will. Is it right to presume that such terrorists are no longer a risk to society once they have served their sentences? When Kamel arrived in Montreal, the RCMP was not even at the airport to greet him. As far as they're concerned, he is an ex-convict who has done his time and has committed no crimes in Canada.

"That's how you would, quite rightly, treat criminals who had served their time," says Professor Martin Rudner of the Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa's Carleton University. "But terrorism, I think -- and I think most people would agree -- terrorism is criminality plus, not criminality minus. It's criminality plus material threat."

The Americans are dealing with this issue by holding some terrorists indefinitely as a way of keeping them out of circulation, an approach born out of their view that they are at war against terrorism. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this week asserted the government's right to hold alleged enemy combatants "for the duration of hostilities."

Canada, however, has not adopted such an approach. Many of the suspected Sunni Islamic extremists in Canada are being watched, but are not in custody. Only one has been charged, and while some are being held for deportation, last month, a Federal Court judge released alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Adil Charkaoui on the grounds that the 21 months he spent in jail awaiting deportation to Morocco had served to sever his ties to the outside world, thus "neutralizing'' any risk he once posed.

Kamel's return led Peter MacKay, the federal Conservatives' public safety critic, to call for a review of his citizenship, but the government responded that Canadians can lose their citizenship only if it was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. "There should be no doubt that the government will do what's appropriate within the mandate of its agencies to protect Canadians from those who pose a threat to security," said Alex Swann, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Safety.

Canada is already home to a collection of retired terrorists such as Mahmoud Mohammed Issa Mohammad, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who shot up an El Al airplane in 1968 and killed a passenger. He now lives in Brantford, Ont.

And there's Haig Gharakhanian, a member of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation Army of Armenia, who took part in the 1982 attempted assassination of Turkish diplomat Kani Gungor in Ottawa. He served a nine-month sentence and now plays guitar in a Toronto band.

Recent experience is even less encouraging. Many of those released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan immediately took up arms again.

"There's no known scientific process for the denaturing of Islamic terrorists, and there's no terrorist old folks home to which people can be consigned," said David Harris, a former CSIS agent.

"One of the things that concerns me is what message does it send to the rest of the world, including terrorists looking for haven, support bases and so on when they see that Canada will allow the seamless return of a convicted global-scale terrorist."

Most intelligence experts agree that Kamel will probably be put under surveillance, but Prof. Rudner wonders whether that is enough. He sees a possible precedent in the treatment of pedophiles.

"You do your time as a pedophile and when you're released, a whole range of mechanisms are put in place that curtail your personal liberty, including disclosure of your address, the need to report to the police very regularly, the need to abstain from contact with children. We don't presume innocence. And here too we're talking about an area where it would be a very high risk to society to presume constant innocence."

The French are notoriously tough on security, and it seems doubtful they would have freed Kamel early if they still thought him a danger. Perhaps he has sworn off terror, or maybe he is even co-operating with counter-terrorism investigators.

Just before he was caught, Kamel seemed to be already losing interest in the clandestine life of a roving terrorist operative. In Milan, police overheard him telling fellow jihadists:

"I almost lost my wife. I am 36 years old, with a son four-and-a-half months old. My wife is playing with him and I am here. I am almost a soldier. I don't know if I am going left or right."

The problem is, neither do we.

© National Post 2005

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