Press accounts like this suggest that Wednesday's Canadian court decision ending the government's terror case against Adil Charkaoui constituted vindication for an innocent man. But the court victory for Charkaoui, accused of being part of an Al Qaeda "sleeper cell," raises more questions than it answers.
Charkaoui, a Moroccan citizen who came to Montreal in 1995, was interviewed in by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in April 2001 as part of an investigation of jihadist recruitment in Montreal's Arab community. Two years later he was arrested on suspicion of belonging to Al Qaeda. The Canadian government sought to deport Charkaoui to Morocco on grounds that he posed a security danger to Canada.
After serving two years in prison, Charkaoui was ordered released from jail in 2005 under strict surveillance conditions limiting his movements.
A series of Canadian court decisions this summer would have required CSIS to disclose confidential information to Charkaoui about its wiretaps and use of informants. Rather than make what it regarded as harmful disclosures that would compromise intelligence sources and methods, the Canadian government decided to drop the case against him.
But information on the public record raises serious questions about whether Charkaoui's knows more about jihadist recruitment in Canada than he is letting on. The National Post reported that in his April 2001 CSIS interview, for example, Charkaoui described to police how Arabs in Montreal were recruiting people for jihad.
"The person responsible for recruitment attends certain nerve centres, such as mosques. Someone whom the recruiter considers to have potential will be exposed to certain activities having to do with jihad. The person is tested. If any flaw is detected related to the security that he must respect to participate in jihad activities, he will be expelled from the group immediately."
Although Charkaoui did not admit to participating in the recruitment effort, "his comments reveal a depth of knowledge about the goings-on within Montreal's extremist community," the National Post reported last year.
Charkaoui also declined to confirm to CSIS agents whether a friend of his named Hisham Tahir had trained in an al Qaeda camp. In 2007, the newspaper La Presse reported that Tahir and Charkaoui had discussed a plot to hijack a commercial jetliner in June 2000.
In a September 14, 2001 interview the agency reported that "Charkaoui did not want to swear to never having been witness to a conversation dealing with plots to commit terrorist attacks including the possibility of blowing up a plane."