Home  > Israel-News Today  > Week in Review  > Year in Review
Terrorists´ families find shelter in Canada - Nation ´opened its arms´: Would we admit the relatives of Osama bin Laden? (NATIONAL POST) Stewart Bell 12/07/02)Source: http://www.nationalpost.com/search/site/story.asp?id=A8BA48C4-2F0B-428F-A646-1F3973E17E6D NATIONAL POST NATIONAL POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
When demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Montreal in April to demand that Canada sever its military and trade ties with Israel, Samia Costandi, a McGill University lecturer and Palestinian activist, was there.

"The Canadian government will never have peace unless they express their support for the liberation of Palestine," the online publication Shia News quoted her as saying. "Urge your government to take action."

Since moving to Canada from Lebanon in 1988, Costandi has become a vocal advocate of Arab causes, attending rallies and writing newspaper columns, letters and essays supporting Palestinian statehood and condemning Israel and U.S. military action in Iraq.

But despite her profile in activist circles, Costandi has managed to keep a remarkable secret: She was once the wife of a notorious Palestinian terrorist leader known by the nom de guerre Abu Abbas.

The Montreal resident at first denied a relationship with Abu Abbas. Then her lawyer, Julius Grey, contacted the National Post, cited Quebec libel law and advised against what he called "outing" the terrorists´ Canadian former wife and sons.

"The purpose [of moving to Canada] was to put all that behind. It´s not an accident they´re living in a place as far away as possible," Grey said. "People are not responsible for what their ancestors did."

Later, Costandi agreed to an interview but told a reporter not to approach her younger son, age 20. "This is my son you are talking about. You don´t know what I would do if you ever come near him. Nobody is allowed to come near my son, do you understand that?" The following day, she called off the interview.

Costandi and Muhammad Zaidan (alias Abu Abbas) were married in Lebanon in what she described as "a big political statement on my part." Abu Abbas had joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1968, and then formed a breakaway faction in 1977 called the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF).

The PLF is responsible for kidnappings, the murder of civilians, a plot to attack tourists in Egypt and seaborne and aerial raids against Israel using rubber boats and hang-gliders. Abu Abbas once urged his followers to "strike with your strong arm against U.S. interests."

But he is probably best known for an incident that took place in 1985, three years after their divorce: the hijacking of the Achille Lauro. The Italian cruise ship was heading east along the Egyptian coast when four of Abu Abbas´s men, armed with guns and explosives, seized control of the vessel and its 400 passengers.

The hijackers demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. To show they were serious, they shot Leon Klinghoffer, a 69- year-old disabled American Jew, and pushed him and his wheelchair into the Mediterranean.

The standoff lasted three days, until the hijackers agreed to leave the ship in exchange for safe passage.

Voyage of Terror, the 1990 Hollywood version of the incident, starred Burt Lancaster and called the hijacking "the event that shocked the civilized world."

The hijacking was shocking because of Klinghoffer´s cold-blooded murder, but also for the way it randomly targeted foreign tourists, giving the impression that nobody was safe, anywhere -- the same unease that Osama bin Laden´s al-Qaeda has deliberately fostered to promote its radical Islamic agenda.

After the hijacking, the Tunisian government, which had harboured the PLF, expelled Abu Abbas and he moved to Iraq, where he now lives with his second wife under the protection of Saddam Hussein.

He reportedly remains active in terrorist operations. Israeli officials claim he was recently reactivated by Saddam and recruited members of a Palestinian terror cell who were trained in Iraq on the use of shoulder-launched missiles, like those fired last week at an Israeli passenger plane departing Kenya.

Now in his fifties, Abu Abbas is still a wanted man. He was convicted in absentia by an Italian court and is named in the most recent U.S. State Department report on global terrorism. According to the White House Web site, Iraq shelters the PLF and Abu Abbas, who it says murdered Klinghoffer.

Abu Abbas once told a reporter he had two regrets about his life of terror: The murder of Klinghoffer and the long absences that caused him to miss the childhood of his sons, who are now Canadian citizens. "I was always in different countries, never sleeping in the same place, never telling anyone where I was going, even my own driver. I have a stack of faked passports, so many that I forget the names," he lamented in a 1998 interview. "I didn´t have time to live with them like a real father."

The Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation, named after the Achille Lauro victim and his wife, wants the family members in Canada to make it clear that they abhor the violence of Abu Abbas.

"Canada opened its arms to them and gave them a haven," said Susan Heller, a spokeswoman for the foundation, based at the Anti- Defamation League in New York. "I would hope that living in Canada would encourage them to condemn the activities that their father was engaged in. I don´t have a problem with their political activism, but I would like them to condemn the Achille Lauro incident and terrorism."

When the request was put to Costandi, she said, "No comment." The hijacking had nothing to do with her, she said. "It´s not my business. This has totally to do with my ex-husband, not me."

The family lawyer said the boys are not estranged from their father and Costandi´s writing suggests they have maintained contact with him since coming to Canada. But the sons are, of course, not responsible for the sins of the father.

In fact, families are sometimes not even aware that the man of the house is a terrorist. An al-Qaeda training manual seized by authorities in Britain describes how secrecy must be maintained, even with immediate family. The manual claims the prophet Muhammad would keep secrets from his wife.

"You shouldn´t be persecuting someone else for what their father did," said Christopher Knight, of Chalk River, Ont., one of six Canadians who were on the Achille Lauro cruise (although he and his wife were ashore at the time it was hijacked).

"God only knows we have a lot of poor parents. Our immigration system should be in place to make sure that the people who do come go through the proper screening and can clearly demonstrate that they´re not on that track."

The family of Abu Abbas is far from the only one in Canada with terror in its lineage. Canada has been treated as a family shelter by some of the world´s worst terror mongers -- a neutral zone where fanatics park their relatives while they are out chasing martyrdom, much the same way they bank their money safely in Switzerland.

There are the families of such African warlords as Muhammad Farrah Aidid, the Somali thug whose armed militia killed dozens of United Nations peacekeepers and nearly wiped out a unit of U.S. Rangers in an incident dramatized in the film Black Hawk Down.

Then there are the alleged Middle Eastern radicals like Fauzi Ayub, a 36-year-old Lebanese who brought his wife to Toronto but then, according to Israeli authorities, was dispatched by Hezbollah to Israel two years ago to organize Palestinian terrorist attacks, including a recent massacre in Hebron that left 12 dead.

The top ranks of South Asian terrorism also have family members in Canada, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, the supreme leader of the Tamil Tigers, wanted by Interpol and recently sentenced to 200 years imprisonment for his role in terrorist attacks, as well as the Tigers´ political chief, Thamil Chelvan.

So what would happen if Osama bin Laden´s wives and children walked off a plane at Vancouver or Pearson airport and asked for asylum? "It´s determined on a case-by-case basis," said Danielle Sarazin, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Nimatullah Pazhwak is one of the highest-ranking war criminals ever deported from Canada. He served in Afghanistan´s Marxist government and was deputy prime minister under Mohammad Najibullah, a former member of the secret police who ran a brutal puppet regime for the Soviets.

When he showed up at the Niagara Falls border crossing on Dec. 23, 2000, he was detained and eventually deported for his involvement in a regime deemed by Canada to have been complicit in crimes against humanity. He was coming to Canada to visit his three daughters, who live in Toronto and Hamilton.

In the case of the Abu Abbas family, moving to Canada was a break from a world where terrorism reigns to one where disputes are resolved peacefully. Although related to a man of violence, the family has chosen the path of non-violence. Indeed, Costandi once wrote that, while she and her ex-husband "shared moral ideas, shared a vision of a liberated Palestine" the couple differed sharply over methods.

"I was an educator with an idealistic vision, and he was a military leader with a will of iron, a stubbornness and patience that served him well in his work."

She also describes him as "generous, warm-hearted, principled and honest" and says he was so compassionate he once freed a prisoner from a rival faction after his mother pleaded for his release. "On the other hand," she wrote, "he could be ruthless too."

The passage appears in one of Costandi´s most recent essays in a new book entitled Woman and the Politics of Military Confrontation. In it, she describes her difficult upbringing in wartime Beirut, her divorce (without identifying her ex-husband as Abu Abbas), her struggles as a single, professional mother in Lebanon, her move to Canada and her commitment to the cause of Palestine.

"Like a long-lost hero coming out of the forest, my comrade, the commando, arose and fought the dragon," she writes in a passage she calls her Herstory of Palestinian Woman.

"I was the heroine beside him, ahead of him, guiding him with my wisdom, encouraging him with my words, and singing to him in the stealth of the night as we made love. I held the gun and fought when he fell. I ululated when they carried him to his final resting place. I held the torch and led him on the path towards liberation."

The Canadian sons of Abu Abbas are now in their early twenties and are students in Montreal. The younger learned the Canadian way early on. Upon returning from a year-long visit with his father in Iraq in 1995, the then-teen found out the Quebec government would not permit him to study in English because of the French Language Charter.

Eager to return to his Montreal school, he mounted a court challenge against the decision of the language appeal commission and won. "The greatest lesson that both my sons learned in their high-school years was this: that you can fight for a just cause and win, in a democracy like Canada," Costandi later wrote in a newspaper column.

In another column in The Gazette, Costandi reflected on her son´s anger at watching television coverage of the allied bombing of Iraq. "Our generation does not believe in war as a solution to any political problem," Costandi quoted her son as saying.

For his part, Abu Abbas has also apparently been won over by Canada, despite regrets his sons are being raised in the West. "Although he has always provided materially for his boys within the parameters of his ability, he feels haunted by what he considers our sons´ dispossession, their having lived in a Western rather than an Arab society," she writes.

"The paradox is, however, that he also feels good about his sons being citizens of a Western democratic society, rather than an Arab oppressive one. Today, he encourages his sons to partake in the privilege of living in a democracy and not to take it for granted.

"´If I was living in Canada,´" Costandi quoted the terrorist leader as saying, "´I would not settle for less than becoming prime minister!´" (© Copyright 2002 National Post 12/07/02)


Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY