Mossad's Canuck gets his man
        
Stewart Bell; with additional reporting by Jane Kokan in Vancouver and Nagwa
Hassaan in Cairo.       
National Post   

October 15, 2005


They were the deadliest al-Qaeda bombings of the 1990s, and the attacks that
ignited the war on terror. Today, in the final instalment of a three-part
series, a quiet British Columbia man who helped bomb the American embassies
in East Africa is cornered by the CIA and Mossad.

- - -

It all began with a telephone call.

Counterterrorism officers at the Israeli Mossad were secretly eavesdropping
on a phone line in the Middle East when they heard an exchange that caught
their attention.

The caller mentioned that a suspected Egyptian terrorist named Ihab Saqr was
planning to meet an unidentified member of the Iranian intelligence service
MOIS.

The meeting was to take place the following week at a hotel in Baku, the
capital of Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic that shares borders with
both Iran and insurgent Chechnya.

The "signals intelligence" was handed to a veteran Mossad officer, who was
the Israeli agency's counterterrorism liaison to the U.S. intelligence
community.

The Baku meeting was a rare opportunity, the Mossad officer -- now retired
-- told the National Post in a series of interviews.

(He also signed a sworn affidavit. This account is based partly on his
statements. His name has been withheld at his request.)

Less than a month earlier, on Aug. 7, 1998, Islamic terrorists had detonated
truck bombs outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam,
Tanzania, killing 264.

Then-president Bill Clinton had responded by ordering missile strikes on
terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The FBI had launched a worldwide
manhunt for those responsible -- Osama bin Laden and his growing collection
of jihadi extremists.

The Israelis were likewise concerned about what they called World Jihad, but
they were also closely watching Iran, which they suspected was colluding
with bin Laden's network.

And now they had proof. An Iranian MOIS agent was planning to meet with
Saqr, the chief of staff to Egyptian Al Jihad leader Ayman Al Zawahiri, bin
Laden's top deputy.

There was one problem. Mossad did not have anyone in Azerbaijan. The Mossad
liaison officer called his contact at the CIA station in Tel Aviv and they
decided to make a fast trip to Baku.

"Let's pick them up," they agreed.

Terrorists like weak states, and Azerbaijan certainly fit the bill. The
small country on the Caspian Sea had only recently left the Soviet Union and
its security service was not particularly strong.

Muslim militants were using Baku as a back door to the civil war in
neighbouring Chechnya, in much the same way they were using Northwest
Pakistan as a gateway to Afghanistan.

Considering Azerbaijan a safe haven, Al Jihad had sent some of its top
terrorists to Baku to help organize the embassy bombings in Kenya and
Tanzania.

Following the embassy blasts, an Al Jihad member who had trained two of the
bombers also made his way to Baku.

His name was Essam Marzouk, a tall, devout 30-year-old from Canada.

He hooked up with the other ranking members of the Baku cell, Ahmed Salama
Mabrouk and Ihab Saqr -- the man who was scheduled to meet with an Iranian
intelligence officer at a hotel in the capital.

The CIA operation was run out of Frankfurt.

The agency quickly assembled a team of eight or nine. Mossad was going along
for the ride, but it was to be a U.S. operation. Officially, the Israeli
officer was not even there.

The Americans let the Azeri police know they were coming. The details were
all worked out. The local authorities would make the arrests. The Americans
just wanted Saqr picked up.

The raid was swift and brutal.

The police waited until Saqr was in his hotel room having coffee, and then
burst in like a ton of bricks. There were, it turned out, three men in the
room. All were dragged away. It happened so fast their shoes were left
behind.

It soon became clear the Iranian intelligence official the Israelis were
hoping to catch had not arrived. The two men with Saqr were not Iranians.
They were fellow Al Jihad members, Mabrouk and Marzouk. "He was not the main
focus," the Mossad officer said of Marzouk. "He was an incidental catch."

Marzouk was the son of a wealthy Cairo engineer who ran a large contracting
company in Egypt. When Marzouk was 19, he made his way to the
Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier and worked as a training camp instructor.

In 1993, he donned a disguise and fled to Vancouver with a suitcase full of
fake ID. He married, opened a business and fathered a Canadian child. During
his five years in Canada, he was a quiet, model citizen, and then in 1998 he
returned to Afghanistan to serve bin Laden and Zawahiri again.

By coincidence, the Israeli Mossad officer who had helped catch Marzouk was
also a Canuck. Born in Ontario and raised in Victoria, B.C., he served in
the Canadian armed forces.

On a backpacking trip, he met an Israeli woman at a kibbutz and they were
married. He became an Israeli citizen and served in the Israeli military
before being recruited in 1988 into the secret intelligence service, Mossad.

When the Baku raid was over, the Israeli officer went to the Azeri police
interrogation centre to see the captives. He wanted to be able to tell his
superiors back home, "I saw them with my own eyes."

Marzouk was dressed in a shabby business suit. He did not seem so menacing.
"They looked pretty roughed up," the Mossad officer recalled. "I think they
beat the crap out of them, to be honest."

For that moment the two men -- one a terrorist, the other a counterterrorist
-- who had left Canada and followed completely divergent paths, stood
opposite each other in a dingy room far from home.

Marzouk's days of fomenting terrorism were done, but the Israeli officer had
likewise tired of the clandestine life and would soon give it up as well.

They said nothing to one another.

The three captives were put on a plane to Egypt in what may have been an
early example of the controversial practice known as extraordinary
rendition.

"Essam was kidnapped in Azerbaijan with Ahmed Salama and rendered to Egypt,"
his Cairo lawyer, Montasser Al Zayat, who has defended many Islamic
militants, said in an interview.

At the time, the Egyptian government was clamping down on Islamic extremist
groups such as Al Jihad following the 1997 massacre of tourists at Luxor.

The result was the largest trial of its kind -- 107 suspected militants, 63
of whom were tried in absentia (including a Toronto man, Mohamed Mahjoub,
who had met with Marzouk).

Marzouk was detained by the intelligence service upon arrival in Egypt. He
claims he was beaten, tortured and humiliated. At first, nobody knew he was
being held.

"The Ministry of Interior denied that they had him," Mr. Al Zayat said. "He
was interrogated. He had no access to lawyers at the time. We only found out
that he was here through statements of other detainees and through our own
investigation. The court then ordered that he appear before them."

On March 16, 1999, security guards escorted Marzouk, handcuffed and
blindfolded, into a courtroom at the Haikstep army base north of Cairo and
placed him in a cage.

The Egyptian Higher Military Court judge told the guards to remove the
blindfold and asked Marzouk for his plea, according to an account published
in the Al Ahram newspaper.

Marzouk denied the charges. He said he had been arrested during a business
trip to Azerbaijan. "He made no statements," said Mr. Al Zayat. "The
prosecution did not question him because he had already been questioned by
intelligence."

It was a short trial.

In November, 2001, Northern Alliance rebels backed by U.S. Special Forces
and high-flying U.S. Air Force bombers toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan
and al-Qaeda began to flee.

They fled so fast they left behind stacks of documents, which were soon
found. Among the papers in one al-Qaeda safehouse was the business card of a
Canadian company called 4-U Enterprises.

It was Marzouk's calling card.

He won't be needing it for some time. Marzouk is serving a 15-year sentence
in Egypt. Mabrouk received a life sentence. Saqr was also held but his fate
is unknown.

Mr. Al Zayat said he last saw Marzouk more than six years ago. "He seemed
well at the time," the lawyer said. "His wife remains in Canada, but his
father, brother and the rest of his family are here in Cairo."

The Mossad officer who initiated the Baku raid received a commendation for
his role. He retired in 2001. In an interview, he said that terrorist groups
have to be dismantled one member at a time, in operations like the one that
caught Marzouk. "It's going to be a fight in the trenches and back alleys,"
he said, "just like the Cold War was fought."

C National Post 2005
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