TORONTO (Dec. 9)
Canadian Jewish groups are calling for greater government vigilance against terrorist groups after a Palestinian-born Canadian reportedly told Israeli interrogators that Hamas recruited him to carry out attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets in North America.
The ease with which Jamal Akal, 23, contacted Hamas and received military training from the Palestinian terrorist group indicates “that the government has not taken all the necessary measures to uproot terrorist cells operating in this country, and that we should be treating such issues as training in Al-Qaida terrorist camps and training with Hamas killers much more seriously than we have in the past,” said Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B’nai Brith Canada.
B’nai Brith has urged the Canadian government to “take all necessary measures to prevent people who train with terrorists and who advocate terrorism from finding safe haven in Canada,” Dimant said.
Akal, who has lived in Canada since 1999, reportedly was visiting the Gaza Strip in October when he met with Ahmed Wahabe, a senior Hamas terrorist who instructed him how to conduct sniper and bomb attacks on Jewish homes and cars.
“New York is an easy place to find Jews,” Wahabe told him, according to information released Monday by Israel’s Government Press Office.
Akal also was ordered to attempt a sniper attack against a senior Israeli official who would be visiting the United States. He received training in the use of an M-16 and was told to buy a similar weapon in the United States.
Representatives of Canada’s Arab community reacted with deep skepticism to Akal’s confession, alleging that he was tortured and noting that Hamas until now has not operated outside the Middle East.
The Israeli Embassy in Ottawa called the allegations of torture “totally unfounded and false.”
Even Akal’s lawyer, Jamil Al-Qhateb, acknowledged that his client had met with Wahabe and received military training.
According to the Israeli statement, Wahabe urged Akal to raise money in Canadian mosques “ostensibly for the family of suicide bombers, which he would actually use for purchasing a weapon and financing his expenses in monitoring his prospective targets and in perpetrating the attacks.”
A former student of the University of Windsor in Ontario, Akal lives in the city of Windsor, which is near the U.S. city of Detroit. His family and lawyer claim that he went to Israel solely for the purpose of finding a wife.
He was arrested in Israel on Nov. 1. According to Al-Qhateb, Akal faces charges of conspiracy and military training.
Akal’s arrest “prevented a terrorist attack,” the Israeli statement claimed.
Some fear Akal’s reported recruitment indicates that Hamas is expanding its terrorist war against Israel to include targets outside the Middle East.
“Hamas has operated in Jordan, and we know that it has sympathizers and operatives all over the world,” Ofir Gendelman, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa, told JTA. “But this is the first time that we know of that Hamas is going to carry out terrorist attacks in North America.”
Because of the singularity of an attack abroad, Akal was set to deflect responsibility for the attack from Hamas by attributing it to Al-Qaida, the Israeli statement said.
After the bombing of a Tel Aviv pub last April by terrorists holding British passports, Israeli security services have heightened their scrutiny of foreigners whom Hamas may have recruited.
Canada’s Foreign Ministry initially seemed angry after the Israeli Embassy revealed details of Akal’s confession late last week to a Canadian newspaper.
When the story appeared on the front page of the National Post newspaper, Foreign Ministry spokesman Reynald Doiron announced that Israeli Ambassador Haim Divon would be reprimanded for divulging details about a Canadian’s alleged criminal activities before they had been established as fact in a courtroom.
“We’re going to tell him that the comments made by him and other people at his embassy are inappropriate,” Doiron said last Friday.
On Saturday, however, Foreign Minister Bill Graham softened the government’s stand, apologizing that his office had given the impression that Divon was due for a reprimand.
Keith Landy, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, expressed concern about the potential expansion of Hamas’ terrorist activities into North America and said the CJC consults with Canadian security and police forces on a constant basis.
The CJC long has urged the government to tighten border controls to prevent admitting “those who seek to come into this country to harm its citizens,” Landy said.
“It’s important that we don’t needlessly raise alarms but we need to be constantly vigilant, and that’s a balance that we need to strike,” he said.
Akal’s apparent recruitment into Hamas “demonstrates to us that terrorism has no borders and everyone is threatened by it,” Gendelman said. “They will hit wherever they can and it’s everyone’s job to stop it.”
Akal will go on trial in several weeks, he said.