TORONTO, Sept. 16 (JTA) Canadian Jews are calling on their government to tighten its borders with the United States following unconfirmed reports that some of the terrorists involved in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have entered the United States from Canada.
Jewish officials long have been wary of Canada’s lax immigration and refugee procedures and have repeatedly urged the government to take action in light of Canadian intelligence estimates that some 50 international terrorist organizations operate in the country.
“We have been concerned for some time that the Canadian border is too porous,” said Frank Diamant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada. “The ability for people with links to terrorist groups to infiltrate Canada has been proven too often.”
Especially alarming for the Jewish community was a recent newspaper revelation that a man with ties to an Islamic terrorist organization had worked briefly as a night cleaner at the Bathurst Jewish Community Center after arriving in Toronto three years ago. The man is currently in police custody.
“I hope we don’t have to wait for a terrorist action in our neighborhood before the government takes action,” said Keith Landy, national director of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Earlier this month, Jewish officials urged the government to be especially stringent at the border in light of the busloads of demonstrators from the United States that had been expected to attend a massive pro-Palestinian rally in Montreal on Sept. 15. The rally was canceled after the New York and Washington attacks.
Suspicions of a Canadian connection to the American atrocities are not without precedent. In December 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested after crossing by ferry from British Columbia to Port Angeles, Wash. A member of a terrorist cell in Montreal, Ressam was subsequently convicted of attempting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations.
On the day of the attacks in New York and Washington, Canadian police detained a man carrying a Palestinian Authority passport and a photograph of himself in a flight crew uniform standing against a fake backdrop of the World Trade Center. The man, detained at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, is still in custody, Canadian police confirmed.
The man, who is in his 20s, was flying to an unspecified city in the United States when his flight was diverted to Toronto following the terrorist attacks. A flight jacket was also found in his luggage, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials say.
Investigators from the FBI and the Canadian intelligence agency CSIS have also questioned the man, who is being held on “reasonable grounds” of being a security risk.
The FBI has also interviewed a second man in Toronto, a 41-year-old Egyptian arrested more than a year ago for his suspected ties to Al Jihad, an Islamic terrorist group connected to Osama bin Laden. According to media reports, numerous Montreal residents with similar links are also under investigation.
Early reports indicated that some of the perpetrators of the American attacks had entered the United States from Canada, but no evidence of this has surfaced. Police have pored over photographs of thousands of license plates of vehicles that crossed the border in the days before the attacks.
Their examinations of rental car records and passenger records of a ferry that operates between Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor, Maine, have also failed to produce a Canadian connection. U.S. officials assert that two of the terrorists drove from Maine to Boston, where they boarded their respective flights.
CBC television news has revealed that Fayez Ahmed, one of 19 hijackers identified by the FBI, attempted to enter Canada in the 1990s but was refused refugee status. No mention of his terrorist past emerged during his hearing in federal court, the CBC reported.
Meanwhile, B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress have publicly deplored an angry backlash against Canadian Muslims that has taken the form of hate graffiti, death threats, assaults and at least one mosque firebombing. B’nai Brith has written to several Muslim organizations and imams, offering assistance to help them counter the backlash, just as it did a decade ago during the Gulf War.
“We are urging Canadians not to stereotype the Muslim community and not to blame the entire community for the actions of individuals,” said Diamant. “Similarly, we hope the Muslim community will, in the future, work in tandem with such organizations as B’nai Brith to tone down the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that we have heard sometimes from their community.”