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Sept. 11 families to sue Ottawa suspect: Mohamed Harkat accused of being a member of al-Qaeda
By Stewart Bell
Published in: National Post - Canada
December 23, 2002

Lawyers representing the families of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks plan to sue an Ottawa pizza delivery man identified last week by Canadian intelligence agents as a secret member of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

A source close to the case sIaid yesterday Mohamed Harkat would be added to the list of defendants named in a class-action suit seeking US$1-trillion from a long list of individuals and organizations alleged to have provided support to al-Qaeda.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is also targeting Mr. Harkat's former employer, the Muslim World League, and its humanitarian wing, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), an alleged front for bin Laden.

Mr. Harkat, 34, a refugee from Algeria, was arrested in Ottawa two weeks ago after a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigation determined he was a member of bin Laden's international network of sleeper agents and supporters.

The case has caught the attention of a U.S. legal team that -- acting on behalf of hundreds of family members who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks -- has filed a massive civil suit that aims to cripple al-Qaeda by bankrupting those who support it.

In documents released last week, CSIS claimed Mr. Harkat "has engaged in terrorism by supporting terrorist activity" and he "engaged in those activities as a member of a terrorist entity known as the bin Laden network which includes al-Qaeda."

Before coming to Canada in 1995, Mr. Harkat also spent five years in Pakistan working for the Muslim World League, which works closely with its aid branch, the IIRO. He said he distributed food and clothing to refugees, but Canadian intelligence agents said that was a cover for his Islamic extremist activity.

Canadian officials have for several years accused the IIRO of secretly financing terrorism and are trying to deport another former employee, Mahmoud Jaballah, arrested in Toronto for his alleged membership in the Egyptian Al Jihad terrorist group.

"IIRO branches around the world have been identified by several governments as serving as vehicles for funding and supporting terrorist groups," said Josh Devon, an analyst at the SITE Institute, a Washington, D.C. terrorism research group assisting with the 9/11 lawsuit.

Formed in 1978 in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, the IIRO has surfaced repeatedly in international terrorism investigations. It has been linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, plots to attack the Brooklyn Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel, the planned assassinations of Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II, and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The IIRO "has materially supported terror around the globe, including Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda," according to the U.S. lawsuit, filed by Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism.

It claims the IIRO's office in the Philippines was run by bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, and "has acted as a centre of terrorist financing and training activity across the globe.

"The IIRO then evolved into a vast independent terrorist machine -- funding, recruiting and aiding and abetting al-Qaeda members around the globe," it alleged.

"Several employees of the Muslim World League, IIRO's parent organization, have explicitly worked with al-Qaeda," the suit claimed. "Osama bin Laden's associates from Afghanistan infiltrated and propagated Muslim World League offices around the world."

The Muslim World League still operates an office in Toronto. Two years ago, one of its employees founded Benevolence International Foundation Canada with Enaam Arnaout. Mr. Arnaout was indicted in October by U.S. authorities who alleged he was an associate of bin Laden who diverted charitable donations to Muslim terror campaigns in Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Chechen republic.

Canada froze the assets of Benevolence International and Rabita Trust, another branch of the Muslim World League. But neither the IIRO nor the League has been blacklisted by Ottawa. The group's Toronto spokesman denies any links to terrorism.

Mr. Harkat held minimum-wage jobs but received large cash transfers from such countries as Yemen, one of them from an IIRO manager in Pakistan who visited him in Ontario.

Mr. Harkat is being detained in Ottawa pending a court hearing that will decide whether the government's case is reasonable.

Sophie Harkat, his Canadian-born wife, denied her husband of two years was a terrorist and Bruce Engel, his lawyer, vowed to mount a vigorous defence.

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