A new book that portrays Canada as a haven for international terrorism charges that border and immigration authorities here repeatedly have slipped up and allowed Middle Eastern and other terrorists to enter the country and even become Canadian citizens.
In “Cold Terror,” author Stewart Bell documents how Canada’s top leaders long have denied or ignored the presence of hundreds of terrorist operatives in Canada, despite repeated warnings from CSIS, the nation’s security and intelligence service.
Among various unrealized criminal schemes, Canadian-based terrorists have plotted to assassinate a visiting Israeli dignitary, bring down an El Al aircraft over Canadian airspace and bomb a Jewish neighborhood in Montreal. They also have helped organize suicide bombings in Israel, according to Bell, a reporter for the National Post newspaper.
“Over the years, the only organization that has really kept track of this issue and organized any effective lobbying to political leaders has been the Jewish community,” he said, explaining why he chose to launch his book at a Toronto synagogue.
In the book, as in countless journalistic articles, the 38-year-old Bell has probed the shadowy world and deeds of local representatives of various international terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaida and other groups that target Americans and Jews.
Expert at prying loose security-related secrets through freedom of information legislation, Bell has amassed what may be the largest private collection of classified intelligence documents in the country.
Even a writer at the rival Globe and Mail newspaper has called Bell “Canada’s leading reporter on national security and terrorism.”
“I hope his book is going to cause an earthquake among people and make them think,” said Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. “He really brings the information home.”
One of the nefarious figures highlighted in “Cold Terror” is Fauzi Ayub, a Lebanese-born father of three from Toronto who was arrested in Israel two years ago for plotting terrorist attacks with Hezbollah.
Though he had been implicated in an assassination plot against the Israeli prime minister, Ayub was one of several hundred prisoners released last January in an exchange with Hezbollah for a captured Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers.
Ayub is still in Lebanon, but Canadian consular officials say he hopes to return to Canada, Bell said.
As in the case of Ayub, Canadian border officials failed to stop Mahmoud Mohammed Issa Mohammad from entering Canada in 1987. A participant in a lethal assault on an El Al plane in Athens in 1968, the former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has used one legal maneuver after another to stave off deportation.
“The Mohammad case is a great example of how our immigration system has fallen down on this issue,” Bell said. “It’s a farce.”
“Cold Terror” also spotlights Jamal Akkal, a former university student from Windsor, Ontario, who was arrested in Gaza last summer for Hamas-related activities. He allegedly was recruited to return to Canada and attack a visiting Israeli dignitary or Canadian or U.S. Jews.
“He hasn’t been convicted yet, but it certainly is a signal that Hamas is expanding its campaign outside of the Middle East to attack what some consider the soft underbelly of Israel, which is the Jewish community worldwide,” Bell said.
The book also recounts the case of former Montreal resident Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian-born Al-Qaida operative arrested by American border guards in 1999 while attempting to bring a carload of explosives into the United States. His intended target was Los Angeles International Airport.
To Bell, the Ressam case illuminates the significant differences between the ways Canadian and American officials have reacted to terrorists.
“CSIS was aware of him since 1995 and was surveilling him, but they never put him out of business,” Bell said. “On the other hand, the second he entered the United States, he was stopped, arrested and turned into a very good government informant.”
According to Bell, Canadian security officials have good intelligence-gathering mechanisms, but until recently lacked effective legal tools to battle domestic terrorists. But he noted that recent counter-terrorism legislation should strengthen the government’s hand — provided it develops the political will to act.
Francois Jubinville, a spokesman for Canada’s Privy Council Office, noted that the government has committed more than $8 billion to enhancing national security since December 2001 and has further demonstrated that it is “coming onstream” by releasing a new national security policy this week in Ottawa.
“Certainly the national security policy is the clearest sign possible of how seriously the government takes the security issue and how committed the government is to tackle any threat to security head-on,” Jubinville said.
Paul Martin, who replaced Jean Chretien as prime minister in December, recently established a new Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and put Deputy Prime Minister Anne McClellan in charge of it, Jubinville noted.
Until relatively recent times, fund-raisers for terrorist groups have been able to raise millions of dollars in Canada because most Canadians don’t realize where their money is going, Bell said.
“The primary targets are outside of Canada. We don’t see the final explosions, so we don’t come face to face with the violence,” he said.
Bell, who grew up in Vancouver, said he was deeply affected by the 1985 Air India terrorist bombing, in which Canadian-based perpetrators blew up an aircraft carrying hundreds of people. The case is still before the Canadian courts.
Though he had written about terrorism for years, Bell said he never fully grasped the subject until two years ago, when he walked through an Israeli pool hall that had been devastated by a Hamas suicide bomber. The bombing killed 16 people and injured scores.
“A guy with a green garbage bag was collecting pieces of people,” Bell said. “I remember thinking, ‘How could someone walk into this crowded room filled with innocent people, look them in the face and just obliterate them?’ “
During one of several journalistic stints in the Middle East, Bell also visited Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut, but said he was not overly fearful of putting himself in Hezbollah’s hands.
“You have to remember that terrorism is a psychological act as much as anything. Those that foster it are interested not only in the killing but in the message,” he said. “So it’s surprising how open these organizations often are to meeting with journalists and explaining where they’re coming from. To an extent, I exploit their need to talk.”
In Toronto, however, the award-winning reporter has received enough threats that the newspaper has put security precautions in place to protect Bell and his family.
“He sparks controversy among those who believe that anyone arrested on a terrorist charge has been wrongly accused,” the National Post’s managing editor, Mark Stevenson, said. “There are a lot of people who don’t like what he does because he reports the news.”
Bell’s articles also generate many appreciative phone calls and e-mails from readers who regard the issue as one of primary national concern, Stevenson added.
“He’s a good, old-fashioned news reporter and investigative journalist. He gets it first and he gets it right.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.