Newspaper article The Canadian Press

French Activist Suspects Americans Behind Detention Ordeal in Canada

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

French Activist Suspects Americans Behind Detention Ordeal in Canada

Article excerpt

Frenchman suspects U.S. for Canadian ordeal

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A French deradicalization activist once imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay said Wednesday he suspects American authorities were behind Canada's decision to refuse him entry and jail him for two days before sending him back to France.

Speaking from Lyon, Mourad Benchellali told The Canadian Press he still doesn't understand why immigration agents treated him the way they did last week, but called the experience deeply unsettling.

"I thought that maybe the American government knew I was in Canada and maybe exerted pressure to put me in jail," Benchellali said. "I thought they will send me to America, so I was very scared."

On arrival at Toronto's international airport the evening of Nov. 2, a Canada Border Services Agency official informed Benchellali that information on file about him required further examination. The ensuing interrogation focused almost entirely on his attendance at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan 15 years ago.

The questioning in French by a lone officer took place in an airport office. From time to time, someone else would come in and, in English, feed the officer more questions, Benchellali said. The interrogation finally ended at about 5 a.m. on Nov. 3, with the officer informing him he was prohibited from entering Canada.

"He said it's very serious," Benchellali said.

The French citizen has written a book about his experiences in the al-Qaida camp in 2001 and subsequent detention in Guantanamo Bay. He said his older brother had taken him to Afghanistan for what he thought would be an adventure holiday.

Since his release from Guantanamo Bay in 2004, he has taken up the cause of deradicalization, speaking frequently to Muslim and other youth about the dangers of extremism and jihad.

Canadian filmmaker Eileen Thalenberg had invited him for a five-day visit to Montreal as part of a documentary she's making for the CBC. …

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