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The Strange Story of Abousfian Abdelrazik

September 24, 2008

The name of Abousfian Abdelrazik doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as easily as those of Omar Khadr and Maher Arar, two other Canadian citizens with roots in the Islamic world who have been famously caught up in the American-led “war on terror”. Abdelrazik is probably also less familiar to Canadians, but his story deserves to be more widely known and discussed.

Abdelrazik comes from Sudan, and became a Canadian citizen in 1995. Paul Koring, in the Globe and Mail, reports that CSIS was “interested” in him by 1999. Apparently he had been praying at a radical mosque, and allegedly attending al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. He also became acquainted with Ahmed Ressam, the “Millennium Bomber” who was later convicted of plotting to blow up Los Angeles airport.

In 2003, Abdelrazik travelled to Sudan to visit his ailing mother – and ended up in a Sudanese prison, without ever being charged with a crime. At least by his own account, he was beaten, interrogated by visiting CSIS agents, and told by the Sudanese that he had been arrested purely at the request of Canada and the United States. They let him go in 2004, and his wife in Montreal sent him the money for a Lufthansa ticket “home” to Canada.

In the end, however, Abdelrazik was not allowed to travel on Lufthansa, apparently because he was on the American government’s notorious “no-fly list”. Air Canada and other airlines also refused his business, and his name appeared on a separate UN list of individuals linked to terrorism, effectively making it illegal for anyone to give him financial assistance. More recently, Etihad Airlines of the United Arab Emirates has offered to carry him in defiance of the no-fly list, but Canada refuses to issue the necessary papers.

Abdelrazik is being treated shabbily by our government, but I’m more exercised about the Orwellian “lists” that are helping to keep him stranded in Sudan. The U.S. no-fly list, in particular, has demonstrably ensnared innocent civilians who happen to share a name with a suspected terrorist, and people in this position have no clear legal recourse. Worse yet is the fact that America has apparently succeeded in imposing this list on Air Canada and other international airlines, even with respect to flights that do not cross U.S. airspace. After the election dust clears in October, our new government should raise vociferous objections.


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5 Comments leave one →
  1. corsullivan permalink*
    September 25, 2008 7:47 pm

    Sue — Good to see you here! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my posts, and hopefully I’ll find more to say about the north before too long.

    Renee — I’m sorry to hear about your connection to the Air India bombing – there are many ways that one could be “connected” to an incident like that, but very few of them are fun to contemplate.

    I’m not entirely opposed to no-fly lists in principle, but I’d have to be convinced that the list was being fairly administered and that the threat was not just real but severe enough to justify the procedure. At present, I’m not sure this justification exists.

    Even setting the threat level aside, I’d say that “remarkably uninformed” and “sloppy” are good descriptors for the American list, and in any case I don’t like the idea of a foreign country – however powerful, and however friendly in many other respects – unilaterally deciding who may fly on Air Canada. We now have our own domestic no-fly list too, of course, but it’s apparently the US one that Abdelrazik fell foul of.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    September 25, 2008 6:15 pm

    Good to be reminded of Abdelrazik – I followed the Arar saga closely and then sort of lost steam.

    The “no fly” lists seem draconian without a properly thought out understanding of the criteria on which “no fly” individuals are assessed. “List of individuals linked to terrorism” – the pubic needs to know much more about how these lists are created and on what basis.

    The threat of terrorism on planes is painfully real for Canada – Air India reminds us always that mechanisms are needed to protect innocent lives. ( I am personally connected to that terrible incident, btw.)

    But as in most details regarding airport/airline security, the systemic responses from nations seems remarkably uninformed, sloppy, and based on sometimes bizarre notions of “who is a threat.”

  3. Sue permalink
    September 25, 2008 6:10 pm

    I have just been catching up on your postings. What a pleasure to read your even-handed articulate insights.
    The recent article on sovereingnty in Canada’s north especially interested me.


  1. Still No Passport for Abousfian Abdelrazik, Despite the Government’s Promises « Canada’s World
  2. Updates: Abousfian Abdelrazik, CUPE vs. Israel, and Wildfires Down Under « Canada’s World

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