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Court records released as part of the $ 27-million lawsuit involving former terror suspect Abousfian Abdelrazik suggest Canada’s spy agency went to extraordinary lengths to disrupt efforts by diplomats trying to win the man’s release from a Sudanese prison.
According to the documents, intelligence officers routinely contradicted Canadian Foreign Affairs officials in order to ensure the alleged al-Qaeda suspect remained in custody — raising questions about whether those officers lied to the Sudanese about the strength of the case against Abdelrazik.
The documents, including briefing notes, email traffic and cables from the Canadian embassy in Khartoum, span six years and also show former Foreign Affairs minister Lawrence Cannon ignored the advice of his officials when he denied Abdelrazik an emergency passport in the spring of 2009.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has long denied asking that the now 55-year-old Montreal man be detained by Sudanese authorities in 2003 — but the documents raise fresh questions.
Abdelrazik claims he was tortured while in custody and said in an interview with CBC News that he is bitterly disappointed the federal government has chosen not to settle his case but will instead fight it out in court.
“I’m an innocent person,” he said. “I want to end this drama.”
He said he wonders if he is paying the political price for settlements with other alleged terror suspects, including former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr.
“I hear the media complain of the Canadian people, [and] the taxpayer. I hear that,” Abdelrazik said. “I wonder why, why [do] they leave it for the last moment. Why? I don’t understand.”
The Liberal government pulled out of mediation talks one day before they were to begin at the end of February.
The trove of sometimes heavily redacted internal Foreign Affairs and CSIS documents released as part of the lawsuit show multiple arms of Sudan’s government, including the intelligence branch, told Canadian diplomats that CSIS asked for Abdelrazik’s arrest.
The information coming from Sudan’s foreign ministry was quite specific. One Sudanese official was quoted in a June 11, 2004, Canadian embassy cable message saying that “all of the ‘trouble’ started because Canada sent a security officer [redacted] who talked to the Sudanese security division and told them to hold Mr. A [redacted].”
That message raises the possibility that whoever spoke to the Sudanese may have misled them about the case against Abdelrazik.
“We are coming as a third party trying to say what the security officer told them is not true,” said the embassy message.
Abdelrazik spent nearly six years in prison or forced exile after CSIS fingered him as an al-Qaeda terrorist. The Federal Court ordered the Stephen Harper government in 2009 to bring him home after Cannon refused to issue a temporary passport.
Cannon is named personally in Abdelrazik’s lawsuit, which was on the way to being settled until federal lawyers pulled out of mediation in February.
The former minister declined comment and directed CBC News to government lawyers.
The former head of intelligence at Foreign Affairs tells CBC News that CSIS told him it did not order Abdelrazik’s detention.
Dan Livermore isn’t sure now whether to believe it.
“We have still not been able to get to the bottom of this,” Livermore told CBC News in an interview.
A former CSIS analyst said he does not believe the spy agency was responsible.
“I find it hard to believe that CSIS would say, ‘Oh, and by the way, pick him up, he’s a danger,'” said Phil Gurski, now retired, who worked counter-terrorism cases with both CSIS and Public Safety.
“I don’t want to cast (aspersions) on the reputation of the Sudanese foreign ministry in 2003 or the Sudanese intelligence service. Suffice to say the Sudan intelligence service is not the American intelligence service. It’s not the British intelligence service. So I think we have to take the statements of the Sudanese with a certain grain of salt.”
The relative reliability of the Canadian and Sudanese intelligence services is a material point in Abdelrazik’s case.
A Federal Court judge, ruling last year on a separate lawsuit filed by Abdelrazik against the RCMP, stated CSIS was “complicit” in his detention.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee investigated CSIS’s handling of the case in 2013 and found the spy service based its threat assessment of Abdelrazik on “incorrect and exaggerated information.”
The watchdog said it did not find evidence that CSIS “ever directly requested or recommended” that the suspect “be detained should he leave Canada,” but qualified its assessment by underlining that other government departments — outside of its mandate — might have other information.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said the documents show the spy service overstepped its bounds. He’s calling on the RCMP to weigh in.
“There should absolutely be an investigation to determine whether there’s been criminal infractions there,” said Neve.
With the lawsuit ongoing, CSIS and the departments of Justice and Public Safety are declining comment.
The court documents reveal inconsistent timelines on when CSIS learned of Abdelrazik’s arrest.
A heavily redacted CSIS memo said it was “verbally informed” on Sept. 11, 2003, hours after the detention. Three months later, however, a CSIS official insisted to Foreign Affairs that “the Service did not learn of his arrest until the following day.”
CSIS pitched hard to convince diplomats that the suspected al-Qaeda operative should remain in custody, even though it was unable to offer evidence that would satisfy either a Canadian or Sudanese court.
“Abdelrazik is one of Canada’s most dangerous and violence-prone Sunni Islamic extremists,” wrote a CSIS operative whose name was withheld. “Our primary concern should Abdelrazik be released is the virtual certainty that he will resume serious threat-related activities in Canada or elsewhere.”
Almost a year after the arrest, diplomats were dismayed to find their appeals to the Sudanese government were being clandestinely undermined.
“According to [redacted], the Canadian Office in Khartoum is contradicting information they received from the Canadian Security Service,” said a June 22, 2004, Foreign Affairs briefing note.
A Foreign Affairs “officer was told by at least two government officials that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been communicating with them about the case and are giving them instructions on what to do with Abousfian (Abdelrazik) and the Canadian Office keeps pressuring them to make a decision with regards to the judicial process in place.”
Livermore said he wonders whether CSIS lied in order to disrupt efforts to help Abdelrazik.
“There were portions of this case where we had inadequate information from CSIS, portions of this case where we felt CSIS went behind our backs to take actions that we didn’t agree with,” he said. “But trying to put names to actions, trying to put exact dates to these actions, is extremely difficult absent documentary evidence.”
One fact was abundantly clear: the Americans wanted the Sudanese-Canadian off the streets in 2003.
“Our belief, and it’s a belief I still harbour, is that it was the CIA that solicited Abdelrazik’s detention from the Sudanese authorities, possibly suggesting that they were acting on behalf of CSIS. But the facts of the case are still to this day pretty murky,” Livermore said.
There was a sense among diplomats by 2008 that they had been run over by their CSIS colleagues in the Abdelrazik case, the documents reveal.
“I was very uncomfortable with our [Foreign Affairs Department] position on this case (being) heavily influenced by other Canadian government agencies, which was to offer the subject all possible assistance short of real help in returning to Canada,” wrote David Malone, a senior official at Foreign Affairs, on May 1, 2008.
“As to the Sudanese authorities, I do remember them seeming amused with our serial hypocrisies in this regard.”
Abdelrazik was in Sudanese custody twice.
After his release, he lived with family in Sudan but was unable to fly home to Montreal because the U.S. had placed him on a no-fly list and designated him a terrorist.
Those classifications have now been removed. He returned to Montreal in 2009.
For almost three years in Sudan following his release from detention, he had very little income and subsisted on handouts of emergency funds from the Canadian embassy.
The documents show that in 2008, officials in Ottawa debated whether to ask him to repay $ 6,607.76 in discretionary funds given to him.