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First member of Khadr clan testifies today

Abdullah Khadr leaves his Toronto attorney's office with his mother Maha El Samnah(left) after speaking with the media on Thursday December 8th, 2005.

Tobin Grimshaw/The Globe and Mail 2005

A member of Canada's infamous Khadr clan will take the witness stand in Toronto today as his extradition hearing begins and in doing so, he will become the first member of the so-called al-Qaeda Family to testify in his own defence.

When Abdullah Khadr, 28, tells his story, the Canadian counterterrorism agents in the Ontario Superior Court will be reminded of a simple maxim: It's not the information you get, it's how you get it.

The Canadian citizen, whom the U.S. is seeking to extradite on a warrant alleging he sold arms to al-Qaeda while living in Pakistan, was held in a secret safe house in Pakistan and endured multiple interrogations at the hands of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and its allies, including CSIS and the RCMP.

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His defence contends that any statements made during and since these interrogations by Mr. Khadr are tainted because he claims he was tortured by the Pakistanis and threatened by the Americans.

Ultimately, the judge will decide how to square Mr. Khadr's alleged admissions with such legal principles as the right to remain silent and the right to counsel, in determining whether any of his statements ought to count at all.

The Khadrs, a family of Canadian-citizen siblings that includes Omar Khadr who is being held in Guantanamo Bay, were raised in Afghanistan by a fanatical Egyptian-Canadian father. Now, nearly 15 years after this man - known simply as "the Canadian" to his al-Qaeda cohorts - beat suspicions he was linked to a deadly bombing in Pakistan, it's his son Abdullah Khadr who stands accused of selling to al-Qaeda figures in Afghanistan $20,000 worth of certain bomb chemicals as well as projectiles for Kalashnikov assault rifles and mortars that he had allegedly acquired in Pakistan.

Acknowledged friends of Osama bin Laden, the Khadrs fled Afghanistan for Pakistan after the 2001 U.S. invasion, though family members were soon picked up on both sides of the border. Two years after the exodus of the "Arab Afghans," the fugitive Abdullah Khadr was arrested in Pakistan - but only after, court records show, the U.S. government paid a $500,000 bounty to the Islamabad military dictatorship that existed at the time.

Top-ranking al-Qaeda members are worth millions, but Mr. Khadr was regarded as a catch in his own right. He was sent to a secret intelligence safe house, run by the host agency, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, and agents from the CIA, FBI, CSIS and the RCMP came calling.

The core allegations were amassed after a series of lawyer-less interviews in a legal limbo. When federal agents asked Mr. Khadr if he was part of al-Qaeda, he replied, "No, I only buy and sell weapons for al-Qaeda," according to a court-filed transcript.

He is even said to have explained how his father sent him to a terrorist training-camp at age 14, and that he "knows everyone" in the al-Qaeda hierarchy.

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Mr. Khadr returned to Canada following the year he spent in the ISI safe house. ("I was never in al-Qaeda" he said in an interview at the time.)

Yet just a couple of weeks after he came back, Mounties he had gotten to know and trust arranged to meet him at a McDonald's in Scarborough.

At that meeting, the RCMP arrested him on a U.S. warrant. That was in 2005, and Mr. Khadr has been held in a Toronto jail ever since.

The Mounties will tell their side of the story during the extradition hearings too, including how they travelled to Pakistan to conduct interviews, but never laid charges under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act. Part of the issue might have been that Mr. Khadr arrived at the RCMP interviews with an opaque hood over his head, according to court documents, and that the Pakistani ISI told the RCMP no lawyers would be allowed.

It's also anticipated that agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service will testify at the hearings, but hooded themselves, in a sense. This rare bit of testimony from CSIS will take place from behind screens, to shield the agents' identities. (In a pre-arrest interview Mr. Khadr said he knew them only as Mike and Bob.)

The CIA, often an unseen hand behind interrogations of Canadian al-Qaeda suspects detained abroad, is expected once again to be a no-show.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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