Former terror suspect Khadr took weapons training in Afghanistan
Date: Tuesday, December 02 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
A Canadian citizen who was suddenly freed from a U.S.-run military prison in Cuba after nearly two years in captivity said Monday that neither he nor his family has any links to terrorism.
Canadian Press Photo
Abdurahman Khadr spent three months in 1998 learning to use Russian assault rifles at an Afghanistan (news - web sites) training camp with links to al-Qaida, the former terror suspect admitted at a news conference.
But he remains adamant that his ethnicity was the only reason he was singled out and detained by Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I wish anybody that says there is something against me to bring it and show it to me," Khadr, 20, told a crush of reporters and photographers crammed into the tiny Toronto offices of his lawyer, Rocco Galati.
"The only reason I was arrested is because I was an Arab."
Khadr refused to talk about conditions at the top-secret Guantanamo Bay military prison where he spent the last nine months. His brother Omar, 17, is being held there after allegedly lobbing a grenade that killed an American in Afghanistan in 2002.
But Khadr did speak, albeit briefly, about the three months he spent at Camp Khaldan in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border - the same facility that trained would-be bomber Ahmed Ressam.
Ressam was arrested in December 1999 as he tried to cross the Canada-U.S. border with a car packed with explosives. He later admitted to being part of a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.
Even though he said it had nothing to do with his arrest, Khadr conceded that he regrets attending the camp, which he described as a routine rite of passage in a country ravaged by war.
"It was a waste of my life for three months," he said. "It's a thing everybody does in Afghanistan. Every kid, when he's around 15, goes to training."
Galati said it's hardly surprising that military training occurs routinely in Afghanistan, where Khadr's family members have spent most of their time.
"It's a country of conflict," Galati said. "That doesn't mean he's a terrorist; it doesn't mean he did anything wrong at all."
The camp is one of several militant camps believed to be financed by terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), of whom U.S. authorities allege Khadr's father, Ahmed Said Khadr, is a trusted associate.
Khadr said his mother told him that his father is dead, although he didn't say how he died. News reports have said the senior Khadr was killed in fighting with U.S. authorities in October, along with his eldest son, Abdullah.
Other reports have disputed that claim, saying the pair remains in hiding.
"My dad didn't have anything to do with that stuff, I know it," Khadr said. His father may simply have been trying to avoid capture, he added.
"Maybe he was scared; I think everybody has the right to be scared right now," he said.
"The Americans can catch you for no reason and put you away, not give you a lawyer, not give you anything, and maybe he didn't want to go to jail."
Members of the Khadr family worked for a relief organization called Health and Education Project International Canada, Khadr said, frequenting Canadian mosques and soliciting financial support, which they took back to Afghanistan.
Khadr said his father was a supporter of the Taliban "as a government, not as them supporting al-Qaida."
Khadr also insisted he left Guantanamo Bay in October, although U.S. officials have said he was released in July. When he asked to be returned to Canada, U.S. officials said he wasn't welcome.
"I said, 'I want to go to Canada,' and they said, 'Well, the Canadians don't want to take you .Â .Â .so we're going to take you back to where we captured you."'
He was flown back to Afghanistan in shackles with a shroud over his head and not a single piece of identification to his name.
From there, he made his way to the Canadian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, only to be denied entry by the guards on duty. He said he was also turned away from the embassy in Istanbul, Turkey.
It wasn't until he got to Sarajevo that he was able to make contact with Canadian embassy officials, who helped arrange his return to Canada on the weekend.
"I don't have any nationality, legal or illegal, but Canadian," Khadr said. "I'm only Canadian. That's the only thing I have."
Prime Minister Jean Chretien had little to say about Khadr's return or his allegations of being denied access to Canadian embassies overseas.
"So he's in Canada," Chretien said. "The Department of Foreign Affairs is following through with their job and he is in Canada. That is the answer."
Foreign Affairs officials did not immediately return phone calls Monday.
Khadr, who plans to remain in Canada and go back to school, is hopeful that Omar will be among a group of prisoners whose release U.S. officials have said is imminent.
If he isn't and the U.S. proceeds with charges, Galati wants a guarantee that he will have access to a Canadian lawyer and that prosecutors won't seek the death penalty.
He also said he wants Canadian authorities to seek more details about the Khadr case and join other countries that are pressuring the U.S. for better conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
"I haven't been retained," Galati said when asked whether he plans to represent Omar Khadr in the event of a trial. "I'm hoping that we don't have to cross that bridge."
Credit: JAMES MCCARTEN / Canadian Press