Is it fair to link Adil Charkaoui’s classes to radicalized Montreal teens?
WATCH: Adil Charkaoui denies he had anything to do with radicalizing anyone and believes Muslims are being unfairly targeted. Reid Fiest reports.
Adil Charkaoui’s name was thrust into the spotlight again on Thursday in connection with a group of Montreal-area teenagers who are believed to have joined militants in Syria.
The father of 18-year-old Bilel Zouaidia, one of the six teenagers who left Canada in the past two months, said his son took Arabic and religious courses through Charkaoui’s École Les Compagnons.
The classes were held at Montreal’s Collège de Maisonneuve, where three of the other teens were also enrolled.
Collège de Maisonneuve suspended its rental agreement with Charkaoui on Thursday, saying it had discovered video footage that promoted “values that are different from ours.” A second school, Collège de Rosemont, also suspended its contract with the school.
Zouaidia only attended classes on two occasions, Charkaoui told reporters.
But Zouaidia’s father told French language newspaper La Presse he had concerns about Charkaoui’s background, and had forbidden his son to attend the classes.
Charkaoui criticized the suspension of the rental contracts, saying it’s a part of a greater culture of bias against the Muslim community and likened it to “a witch hunt.”
“It’s clear that all mosques and community centres are against participation [in radicalism],” he told reporters on Friday.
Who is Adil Charkaoui?
Born in Morocco in 1973, Charkaoui came to Canada in 1995. He became a permanent resident and studied French literature at the University of Montreal.
“I did not land in Canada by parachute; I was selected. I demonstrated that I had no criminal record: Interpol did an investigation,” Charkaoui wrote for OpenParliament.ca in 2007.
But eight years after his arrival, in the spring of 2003, the Canadian government had Charkaoui arrested on a security certificate —which allows “the removal from Canada of non-Canadians who have no legal right to be here and who pose a serious threat to Canada and Canadians” — alleging he had ties to al Qaeda.
He was held in custody for 21 months before being placed under house arrest and under 24-hours surveillance. He also had to wear a GPS monitoring device for four years. Charkaoui was never charged with a crime.
He successfully challenged the constitutionality of security certificates in 2007. In 2009, he won his fight against being deported. He then launched a lawsuit against the Canadian government in 2010.
In 2013, he finally became a Canadian citizen.
Is Charkaoui’s background relevant to this situation?
Charkaoui is one of five men Canadian authorities detained on security certificates whose stories are detailed in the documentary The Secret Trial 5.
Amar Wala, the documentary’s director and co-producer, got to know Charkaoui through working on the film. He said it’s common for Charkaoui’s name to pop up when terrorism and radicalization are making headlines.
“He’s actually been in and out of the news, consistently, since 2009,” Wala said. “Every few months, something happens where Mr. Charkaoui is either targeted for something or sort of brought up as a person of interest.”
Wala described Charkaoui as “fiery” and “tough,” and someone who has been outspoken about the Canadian government.
He questioned whether claims Charkaoui was sharing an extremist ideology were legitimate.
“If he’s doing anything illegal, he’s going to be the first person arrested,” Wala said in a phone interview. “If Mr. Charkaoui is preaching radically, do you really think CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] doesn’t know that?
“There’s probably only a handful of people in Canada, in the last 10 years, who have had their lives more scrutinized [than] Adil Chakaoui.”
The proceedings to deport Charkaoui came to an end in 2009 after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Canadian government must provide information it had about him. The government claimed its evidence against Charkaoui could pose a national security risk if it was made public.
In 2013, Maclean’s magazine published details of a statement of defence filed by the Attorney General’s office, explaining some of the allegations against Charkaoui.
“A CSIS investigation showed there was reason to believe that [Charkaoui] participated in Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, at the same time as other notorious terrorists including [Millennium Bomber] Ahmed Ressam, [9/11 mastermind] Zacarias Moussaoui and [convicted French terrorist] Slimane Khalfaoui,” a translation of the filing read, according to Maclean’s.
“The Canadian government [in 2013] still saw fit to give him his Canadians citizenship,” Wala said. “That should tell you something about whether or not they thought he was a threat.”
He added being labelled a terrorist still hangs over Charkaoui’s life, but “[he’s] chosen to use his notoriety and the notoriety of his case to serve his community.”
Charkaoui’s background can’t be ignored: expert
University of Calgary political science professor Michael Zekulin said people need to be “reluctant to rush to judgement.” But, he said there are concerns that need to be addressed because of Charkaoui’s history of being detained on a security certificate and the allegations he was tied to a terrorist organization.
“When you add up all the things previously, which we can’t unfortunately help but do…this is where you start to see the potential for a red flag,” he said. “At the same time perhaps, we can understand a little bit [of] his frustration and anger if he has done nothing wrong here.”
He explained it’s not easy to point the finger at Charkaoui as being responsible for the radicalization of Zouaidia.
“We don’t just want to draw the link immediately,” he said. “It’s entirely possible that this individual [Zouaidia] subscribed to radical ideology from a friend [or] from the Internet.”
Zekulin pointed out the allegations against Charkaoui were never proven and said the situation needs to play out further, to allow more information to emerge, before jumping to any conclusions.
But he sees the logic in the schools suspending Charkaoui’s contracts.
He said the schools are “ultimately responsible for their space” and are “probably within their rights, at least temporarily, to sort of stop and investigate this further.”
In the meantime, Charkaoui is threatening legal action if his contracts with the schools are cancelled.
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