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'Home alone' house arrest ordered for terror suspect

A Federal Court judge has granted a terrorism suspect more freedom than he has had in a decade, ordering him out of jail and into a "home alone" form of house arrest that will permit him some unescorted excursions in Toronto.

The court order - the latest in a string of recent rulings that have served to rein in state surveillance under Canada's security-certificate program - was in the case of Mohamad Zeki Mahjoub, a suspected Egyptian al-Jihad member who admits he was once friendly with Osama bin Laden. The 50-year-old refugee claimant is recovering after being hospitalized last week, six months into a hunger strike to protest against his decade-long detention and surveillance.

The essence of his provisional release plan, which should occur in coming weeks, is that he will be the sole occupant of a Toronto apartment where federal authorities will watch his every move via video cameras, a GPS ankle bracelet, a tapped phone - and possibly even motion detectors and voice-recognition software.

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Yet Mr. Mahjoub will be allowed to leave this bubble of electronic surveillance to run some errands and pray at a nearby mosque, without having federal agents shadowing him at all times.

Mr. Mahjoub first came to Canada in 1995. Five years later he was jailed on CSIS information alleging that he was a high-level threat. Since then, his case has been a legal saga, as judges have resisted Canadian government bids for indefinite incarceration or to deport him to Egypt, where he could be tortured.

"The [federal]ministers rely on CSIS's position that once a terrorist always a terrorist," Mr. Justice Edmond Blanchard of the Federal Court wrote in a decision yesterday that outlined a new release plan for Mr. Mahjoub.

The judge said CSIS and Crown witnesses "have adduced no independent evidence to support their position that a person with Mr. Mahjoub's background cannot change."

"I am satisfied that Mr. Mahjoub's lengthy detention has served to disrupt his contact and communication with extremist individuals or groups," Judge Blanchard ruled. "I am also satisfied that the threat Mr. Mahjoub poses has been mitigated by his public exposure and by his constant supervision and control by the Canadian authorities."

The matter of Mr. Mahjoub's deportation has not been decided by the courts, and he is the only security-certificate detainee of four still jailed in a specially built prison in Kingston.

From 2007 to early 2009, Mr. Mahjoub had been released under a similarly strict form of house arrest where federal agents followed him on foot whenever he left the monitored confines of the house he shared with his wife and two young children.

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After two years, Mr. Mahjoubbegged to be returned to jail, reasoning that being locked up was better than constant surveillance ruining his family's life.

However, a litany of alleged irritants at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre - late food delivery, spilled soy milk, searches of his beard and Koran - led him to undertake a six-month-long hunger strike that caused him to lose nearly a quarter of his body weight. Judge Blanchard expedited a detention review for the starving prisoner and said the detention centre tended to punish and isolate detainees who've not been accused of any crimes.

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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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