CBC Television –
The National Tuesday,March 4, 2003- 22:00:00 ET
U.S. Most Wanted Man
Host(s): PETER MANSBRIDGE
PETER MANSBRIDGE: You may have heard about Omar Khadr. He’s the Canadian teenager capture by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But beyond his capture is a sotry of intrigue and deception. Khadr was recruited into al-Qaeda by someone he deeply trusted, a fellow Canadian, a religious extremist – his own father. Ahmed Sa’id Khadr is now one of the United Statesmostwantedman, and a man who deceived Canadians into funding his violent cause. The CBC’sDarrowMacIntyrehas been investigating this story. He begins his report tonight in the Afghan capital.
DARROW MACTINTYRE (Reporter): In Afghanistan, 20 years of war may be over, but its effects are still etched on the faces of the people. It’s been just over a year since the Taliban ruled this city with an iron fist. The streets were filled with their supporters, including one called al-Kanadi, the Canadian. His real name is Ahmed Sa’id Khadr and for 20 years, he cultivated an image of himself as a man of charity. He traded on it, used it to lure donations from generous Canadians. But behind the image was a life of lies and deception. The smile and soft words masked his real intentions.
In this fundraising video, seen only by intelligence officials until now, Khadr warns Canadian Muslims of a western conspiracy against Islam.
AHMED SA’ID KHADR: Islam is the issue of Aghanistan. People are told “remove Islam, we give you everything.” It’s the same slogans missionaries used to be pumping into the minds of people in Africa. “Leave Islam, we give you education and butter.” Afghani people cannot afford to eat that.
MACINTYRE: Eventually Khadr, also known here as Abu Abdurrahman packed up his things and fled Afghanistan. He left overnight, abandoning a comfortable home in an upscale Kabul neighbourhood.
Hello. I’m Darrow MacIntyre, Canadian television. We’re trying to find out some information about a man who lived here before. His name is Abu Abdurrahman. Have you ever seen this man?
The new owners don’t remember him. But on the sidewalk, the whole neighbourhood remembers Khadr and the day he packed up and left.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (1): He was originally Arab by ethnicity, and held Canadian citizenship. His name was Abu Abdurrahman. He was logistically supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I was in Peshawar when the coalition forces came, but I heard that a day before he had packed up and left for Logar along with his kids and family.
MACINTYRE: Today Khadr is on the run, hunted by the Americans, his dream of a fundamentalist state in taters. Those who knew him long ago find it all hard to believe. When he came to Canada from Egypt in 1975, Khadr was an idealistic student. He divided his time between the University of Ottawa and the local mosque. He married a Palestinian refugee named Maha el-Samna, settled down in the suburban neighbourhood and started a family. He was a devout Muslim, says his old friend Mumtaz Akhtar.
MUMTAZ AKHTAR: First prayer is before sunrise, at the dawn, you know, and he was one of the main organizer for those gatherings, you know. And I was young. I had just graduated and started this and he was organizing everything.
MACINTYRE: But soon the Khadr’s quite life in Canada would come to an end. Thousands of miles away the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and a holy war started. Muslims from around the world answered the call to Jihad including Ahmed Sa’id Khadr. He moved his young family to Peshawar, Pakistan, an hour from the Afghan border and a melting pot of soldiers, spies, thieves and millions of refugees. Khadr says he came to help the refugees. He ran a charity calledHuman ConcernInternational or HCI with his old friends from Ottawa. Hope village school and medical centre was their showcase project.
Some of their funding came from the Canadian government but millions came from well meaning Canadian Muslims who were charmed by Khadr’s stories about hungry children.
AKHTAR: He had to motivate people to keep, make them give money. And I have noticed women taking their golden, what do they call it, necklaces and their bracelets, you know, whatever they have, their earrings, all gold and throwing it at him, you know, to take it. So he could really motivate people.
KHADR: What’s 70, what’s 80 bucks, 80 buck a month? It’s a cup of tea a day. Who of us does not buy for his child an Adidas for $150? Or shirts or tight pants or white pants or whatever they are, when the mode change. Everyone of us does that. But these little children need our care.
MACINTYRE: What neither his donors nor the Canadian government knew was thatmostof the money Khadr raised was diverted to fund his real cause – holy war. In the 80’s, even hope village wasn’t open to just any refugee. Only families and soldiers of the group Hizbi Islami. Its leader was a ruthless warlord, a strict fundamentalist. He hated the west and it seems he was a friend of Ahmed Sa’id Khadr. Journalist Tim Deagle visited hope village back then.
TIM DEAGLE: It was really quite disturbing and I turned to my photographer and said you know, Hizbi Islami. This is Hizbi Islami. This isn’t a refugee camp. This is more of a training ground.
MACINTYRE: Soldiers were everywhere but Khadr was nowhere to be seen. Getting an interview with him would take Deagle weeks of phone calls and a bizarre midnight meeting in a secret location.
DEAGLE: They picked us up at 11 o’clock at night. It was very cloak and dagger, drove through the deserted streets of Islamabad, some tiny little suburb where we were led into a room where he was sitting there. He knew very little about the program or in fact, as it turned out there didn’t seem to be a program. There wasn’t much to know about. He was very suspicious of us, not terribly welcoming. He had at least two bodyguards with him in the room and after about 20 minutes he got obviously bored of my questions and told us to leave and that was it.
MACINTYRE: Back in Ottawa, Mumtak Akhtar admits he knew about Khadr’s ties to this man but he brushed it off as diplomacy.
AKHTAR: He was a strong man. And when you live in a forest, youi have to be nice to the lion. Otherwise he will eat youi up. So he was that way. His picture must have been there. And he was also supporting this cause, you know.
MACINTYRE: In fact, our investigation revealed that Khadr’s support for extremists was more than just diplomatic. Even before he arrived in Pakistan, he’d worked with the brother of this man, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected master mind of the September 11th attacks. And in 1987, Khadr formed an alliance with Osama bin Laden himself fighting in a pivotal battle against the Russians.
At the battle of Jaji, Mujahideen fighters delivered a powerful blow to Russian forces and Khadr was one of about 50 Arabs that bin Laden led into the fight. That group went on to form al-Qaeda. They built a network of military bases across Afghanistan and soon with the Russians defeated, started training an army to fight what they saw as the new enemy of Islam – America. Once again, Khadr was on the side of themostradical religious extremists in the country, a position that would one day nearly cost him his life.
In the spring of 1992, Khadr led a group of men into Afghanistan, he says to inspect an irrigation project. When they arrived, he stepped out of the car and he claims that’s the last thing he remembers. At that point, there was an explosion. At least two men were killed and Khadr was seriously injured. According to him, he stepped on a landmine. But others tell a different story.
Ayub al Hurmizzi is an aid workers based in Kabul. He knows Khadr well and says he was injured on a military mission attacked by a rival war lord.
AYUB AL HURMIZZI : Did Khader step on mines while he worked with people? I don’t think anyone would be foolish enough to believe that. Khader’s son said his father was injured on the battlefield.
MACINTYRE: With near fatal injuries, al-Kanadi needed Canada. He came back for two years of operations and rehab that saved his leg. He supported his family on a government disability pension and family allowance cheques. The kid were glad to be back. Six year old Omar got hooked on Nintendo, his older brothers Abdurrahman and Abdullah on American movies. But their father was restless. By ’94 his leg was healed and with his family and now monthly government cheques, he went to pick up where he had left off in Afghanistan. This time Khadr would operate largely out of Jilalabad, inside Afghanistan. Surrounded by al-Qaeda bases, it would soon also be the new home of Osama bin-Laden. Khadr claims to have spent a million dollars on schools, orphanages and clinics but there’s little sign of it today nor was there then.
Sahda Qat Pacha worked for the local welfare department in 1995. He sent orphans to HCI school until he realized how little Khadr was spending on them. Not enough for bus fare, he says.
SAHDA QAT PACHA: The same money given for the same purpose went from 2500 rupees to 1200 rupees to 500. It didn’t look good to us. We found out that they are stealing from the deserving orphans. We said if they are stealing money from poor orphans we shouldn’t exploit Afghans by sending them to his organization.
MACINTYRE: Khadr’s financial reports to HCI headquarters in Ottawa consisted of hand written sheets filled with vague information that was usually impossible to verify. Even his bosses would grow suspicious and eventually realize they had good reason to be.
AKHTAR: We were not aware that he was collecting money by himself and not sending us the report. You know, all the money he collected, for example, for HCI should’ve gone into the HCI bank account. But I guess he was not. He maybe opened another account.
MACINTYRE: So where was the money going? Pakistani intelligence sources think some of it was used to bomb the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in 1995. Seventeen people were killed in the explosion. According to sources in Pakistan, police traced the car used in the bombing to Khadr. They arrested him as he returned from Afghanistan with more than $40,000 U.S. in a suitcase. During a hunger strike in prison, Khadr got a sympathetic hearing from Canadian reporters and relied on his Canadian passport to get him out of a scrape.
KHADR: I said I am not Egyptian. I’m Canadian. They said no, you’re Egyptian. I said no, I’m Canadian. My residence, my applications, everything is as a Canadian citizen. They said no, you are Egyptian. I said sir, this is my Canadian passport.
MACINTYRE: During a visit by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Khadr’s wife went to Chretien’s hotel looking for support.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (1): I heard the Prime Minister have a big heart for us to listen to our point of view.
MACINTYRE: Chretien asked Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto to either charge Khadr or release him. But she was non-committal. Altogether Khadr spent four months in custody here in Islamabad. It was always assumed his release came largely due to pressure from Prime Minister Chretien but according to a high ranking afghan intelligence official we spoke to, Khadr’s release was actually purchased with a bribe paid by al-Qaeda. When he was out, Khadr returned to Canada once more to recuperate but this time there was no hero’s welcome. HCI fired him. Shocked, furious and unemployed, he went to his old Toronto mosque for advice. Ali Hindi.
ALI HINDI: He didn’t know what to do. I mean he asked me for direction. What do you recommend? I said maybe let’s try now to stay in Canada. You are engineer. You are electrical engineer. I’m civil engineer and I know I got lots of job for electrical and civil. And you should be able to find work very easily. He thought about it and then he said no, I can’t leave what I have already started and then he formed his own organization.
MACINTYRE: Khadr did return to Jalalabad and did start his own organization. But only the name was new. Cars, buildings, cash and furniture he stole from HCI. When HCI staff tried to reclaim it, Khadr used his contacts in the Taliban to have them thrown in jail. Ali Nawaz was one of the staff members sent to reason with Khadr. He’d been a friend for ten years and expected at least a civil reception from his colleague. Instead, he spent seven days in a filthy, crowded prison sharing a cell with a murderer.
ALI NAWAZ: What I can say? It was, actually I don’t want to remember those days. I don’t want. But this is, I know that all these things, was from this person.
AKHTAR: Bitterness is one thing but taking over an organization by force and putting people’s life in jeopardy. That is another thing, you know. It’s really difficult to comprehend, you know.
MACINTYRE: Khadr called his new charity Health and Education Projects International and carried on fundraising as though nothing had changed. He had complete support from the Taliban. After all he was a diehard supporter of theirs. He even gave them one of HCI’s trucks as a gift after he’d stolen it. He gave another to Osama bin Laden.
Although taking pictures was illegal, the Taliban even allowed Khadr to make this video in October 2000. The boys are supposed to be orphans at his school. And the video was supposed to be for fundraising in Canada where Khadr still had a gift for making money.
AKHTAR: Before 9/11, he used to collect, come to collect money and he used to hear from different communities oh, your ex was here. And he collected $20,000. He collected so much from there, like not only in Ottawa, from coast to coast here.
MACINTYRE: But his Canadian donors might be surprised to learn what kind of school their money was supporting. Today that same building where Khadr made the fundraising video is headquarters of the local Afghan intelligence service. The chief there remembers Khadr and his colleagues and the way they ran their school.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (2): They seemed to be people of a military nature. They were all military people… They were teaching people religious matters. The military coaching and teachings were happening in places where hardly anyone could go.
MACINTYRE: As far as he knows, this wasn’t a school for orphans and Khadr wasn’t a real aid worker. This is what a real aid project looks like. In villages like this and not far from Kabul, 20 years of war and five years of drought have left people starving. The person bringing them their first food aid ever is Ayub al Hurmizzi.
Hurmizzi knows how mainstream aid agencies work and he says Khadr’s organization, well, it just wasn’t a real organization. He says it was only an illusion.
HURMIZZI: Khader was a vacuum. He became famous for no reason. He claimed he had a humanitarian organization in Afghanistan. He obtained funding and delivered 25 percent to the needy, stealing the other 75 percent.
MACINTYRE: In fact by the late 90’s, Khadr didn’t live anywhere near the programs he was supposed to be running. He’d moved his family to Kabul where the Taliban was firmly in control. His dream of a fundamentalist Islamic state had materialized but he still resented western leaders who, he thought, were trying to undermine this Taliban friends.
KHADR: I think what we expect from the people in Canada when you go back is that you convey the proper message that this kind of tyrannical picture which is usually shown on the TV which is CNN, BBC, CBC, you name it, it’s all something that doesn’t exist on the ground. You have seen for yourself. So the whole thing is a false picture. They own the media, they direct the media, and they SHOVE whatever they want in our eyes and our stomachs and we believe.
MACINTYRE: Khadr’s life in Kabul wasn’t so bad. He had perks like servants, 24 hour electricity and a big house. Big enough to be a meeting place for all of his al-Qaeda associated.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (3): No one really knew what they were doing. They would come and go in luxury cars. Many people would come visiting them. Their cars would jam the whole street. No one knew what they were doing inside. But when there was fighting in the north, these people were providing logistical support for the frontlines. They loaded trucks with mattresses and blankets and sent them to the frontlines.
MACINTYRE: By this time, Khadr was one of al-Qaeda’s six financial officers, a senior fundraiser and recruiter. Three of the people he recruited were his own sons. When we come back, a father sacrifices his family for the cause.
MACINTYRE: Ahmed Sa’id Khadr introduced his sons to holy war early and two of them did well. Abdullah pictured here at 17 is now 23. Canadian Intelligence officials think he may have actually run an al-Qaeda camp. Then there’s Omar, age nine in this picture. Last summer, at 15 he was learning how to detonate landmines with a cell phone when U.S. special forces stumbled across his training camp. In the five hour battle that followed, he allegedly killed one American soldier and injured another. Now he’s the youngest prisoner of war at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khadr’s second son, Abdurrahman was a different story. A friend who visited the Khadr spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, says Abdurrahman just wanted to have fun.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (4): He’s a typical teenager. He was bored to death of life in Afghanistan. He was at an age where he was interested in girls and was complaining that you can’t meet anybody out there. So he would spend a lot of time with his friends, exchanging bootleg DVD’s of American movies, watching them in the, in the guesthouse with the curtains drawn on his dad’s notebook computer with a DVD-rom.
MACINTYRE: Khadr sent Abdurrahman to a whole series of al-Qaeda camps but he kept getting thrown out. He didn’t care about the cause and apparently didn’t take his training seriously.
HURMIZZI: Abdurrahman didn’t like Arabs anymore. Anyone asking him whether he was Arab, his response was simply ‘I am Canadian.’ Abdurrahman was very much against his father.
MACINTYRE: In the end, he told Hurmizzi, his father’s dedication to the cause had ruined the family.
HURMIZZI: He was saying that he wanted to live like other Egyptians in Canada whose sons have been raised there. Their children become pilots and doctors. He was saying I’m totally illiterate compared to them. He said his father didn’t like him at all.
MACINTYRE: Khadr himself had no regrets. In the months before September 11th, he was more loyal than ever to al-Qaeda and thought handing Osama bin Laden to the Americans would be the beginning of the end for Islam.
KHADR: It was summarized by Mullah Mohammed Omar who is the leader in Afghanistan, when these people were talking about handing over Osama bin Laden, he said ‘if I will hand over bin Laden, will this be the “seal” to the arguments?’ He say ‘no’. He said – I will give you the rest of it. If he gave you bin Laden, you will say “how about women? Give them freedoms. If we give them freedoms, he’ll say “let women go to work.” If they work, ” give political freedom”. Give political freedom? “Give multiple choice of parties? Give multiple choice of parties, then you’ll say “give democracy, give elections,” let the communists come back as a party. Then where do we go?
MACINTYRE: After September 11th, Khadr knew war was coming to Kabul. And according to his neighbours preparations were underway at his house.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (5): His son was taking some sort of weaponry to the roof saying he would shoot the American planes flying here at night. Myself and a number of the elders of this area went to him, his son could understand Farsi and asked him not to do this. We told him ‘we are your neighbours and if you take this gun and shoot American planes you are also putting into danger innocent people like us.
MACINTYRE: Instead the day before the northern alliance swept into Kabul, Khadr and his family fled with the other Taliban and al-Qaeda supporters. Only Abdurrahman stayed behind. On their first morning in Kabul, northern alliance soldiers came looking for Khadr and found the son instead. More than a year later, Abdurrahman is sitting in a military prison at the U.S. military base in Baghram. His father, we discovered is here in Lahore, Pakistan hiding at the home of a family friend from Toronto,wantedby the Americans and the UN. According to the Imam in Toronto, he’s ready to come back.
HINDI: I want him to come back. I want to see him, you know. He has all the rights to be here. I have been contacted with his daughter in Pakistan and she said that he’s asking, he want to come back and he’s asking what did he write about him and what did he say about him. You know, he want to come back here.
MACINTYRE: If Khadr tries to come back, he’ll likely end up here, like his son in Guantanamo Bay. And if that happens, he’ll likely expect some help from the country he calls home when it’s convenient – Canada. For The National, I’m Darrow MacIntyre in Afghanistan.