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A special report by Hal Bernton, Mike Carter, David Heath and James Neff · June 23 - July 7, 2002
Chapter 9:
'A Bunch of Guys'

logo Canada once again shows its astounding hospitality to convicted thief and terrorist suspect Ahmed Ressam.

VANCOUVER, B.C., February 1999 — It should have been an easy collar.

Agents for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) knew Ahmed Ressam had traveled to Afghanistan to train to become a terrorist.

Ressam's passport
Ahmed Ressam obtained this passport, in the name of Benni Noris, using his falsified baptismal certificate.
In the winter of 1998, they listened to him make his plans through electronic bugs planted in his Montreal apartment. They heard him boasting that he had a new "Canadian-sounding" name. They even put him on a special immigration watch list, not to be allowed back into Canada.

But when Ressam, posing as Benni Antoine Noris, came to the immigration window at Vancouver International Airport on Feb. 7, 1999, fresh from his Asiana Airlines flight from Pakistan by way of Los Angeles, he breezed right through.

The ease with which Ressam re-entered Canada after attending terror-training camp illustrates why U.S. counterterrorism officials sometimes deride their neighbor to the north as "the aircraft carrier" — meaning terrorists can land and take off from there with impunity.

Ressam spent his first month in Vancouver, B.C., then returned to Montreal in April. He expected four other Algerian members of his training cell to join him there, allowing him to return to the comfortable role of follower. But one by one, the others got stopped by authorities en route. He would have to step up. He began contacting other immigrants who said they, too, wanted to wage jihad.

His friends immediately noticed a change. Ressam seemed more confident. Eleven months before, he was just a thief. Now he was a fighter, a man willing to risk his freedom or his life for Allah.

Apartment building
Ahmed Ressam moved into this apartment building on Sherbrooke Avenue in Montreal and began to assemble a team for his mission.
He moved into a nondescript, three-story brick apartment on Sherbrooke Avenue, a busy street that runs the length of Montreal. From old acquaintances and new, he started to assemble a team to help with his mission into America.

But he soon heard troublesome news: His friend and mentor, Fateh Kamel, was in jail in France.

Kamel had been tracked down by Jean-Louis Bruguière, the French terrorism magistrate. Bruguière found him in early 1999 in Jordan. The French judge persuaded Jordanian officials to arrest Kamel and extradite him on charges of abetting terrorism on French soil.

Bruguière wasn't finished there. He wanted Kamel's Montreal cell mates, including Ressam, brought in by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and questioned on similar suspicions.

In his April request, Bruguière insisted the other men could be charged with abetting terrorism because they had sent money orders and stolen passports to terrorists in France and elsewhere.

But Canadian intelligence agents had seen little in their two years of surveillance to indicate that the "bunch of guys" in Montreal posed a serious danger, particularly not at home. Two months went by before David Gendron, a corporal with the Mounties' immigration-enforcement arm, was assigned to the case.

Gendron visited the apartment on Place de la Malicorne, where Ressam and friends had lived earlier. But they had moved out. Gendron would have to track them down, if he could.

Among the lessons Ressam had learned in the al-Qaida boot camps was how to avoid detection. He and his conspirators met at a doughnut shop or a Bosnian cafe, or conversed in a car. They used stolen cellphones and pay phones. And they moved a lot.

Before he went to Afghanistan, Ressam's voice had been recorded in nearly 400 wiretapped conversations. Afterward, it was never picked up again by eavesdroppers.

Bruguière was furious at the Canadians. He attributed their lack of urgency to a selfish sense of security, their belief that their nation's benign role in foreign affairs would immunize them against any attack by terrorists.

What the Canadians didn't know was by 1999, Ressam and his associates were scheming against not only the Great Satan, the United States, but also against the country that had treated them so kindly.

To pay for their plans, they needed cash, which they could get quickly only by stealing it. And when they didn't have enough cash, they would simply do what millions of North Americans do: Charge it.

Through underground channels, Benni Noris, né Ahmed Ressam, had acquired a Royal Bank Visa card. For Ressam and his friends, there was something particularly sweet in using that ubiquitous tool of the corrupt and godless West to pay for the war against it.

<< Chapter 8 Chapter 10 >>

David Gendron
This Mountie didn't get his man
Fateh Kamel
Ressam's friend and mentor

Montreal, 1999

Chapter 1: Past as Prologue
Chapter 2: The Fountainhead
Chapter 3: Leaving Home
Chapter 4: Sneaking In
Chapter 5: The Terrorist Tracker
Chapter 6: It Takes a Thief
Chapter 7: Joining Jihad
Chapter 8: Going to Camp
Chapter 9: 'A Bunch of Guys'
Chapter 10: The Mission
Chapter 11: The Ticking Bomb
Chapter 12: The Crossing
Chapter 13: On the Case
Chapter 14: The Warning
Chapter 15: Puzzle Pieces
Chapter 16: The Reckoning
Chapter 17: Nine-Eleven

See About this series for source list, credits and reprints.

Understanding the Conflict
Two Peoples, One Land

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