How a Sharia activist infiltrated the ‘Toronto 17’ and helped authorities build a case against them.
Courtesy Sonya Fatah and Greg McArthur, The Globe and Mail
TORONTO â€” One night in October, a group of young Muslims gathered at a Toronto banquet hall and tried to raise money for two men who had recently been convicted of gun smuggling, and had been imprisoned.
The event was supposed to help their cause â€” but it may end up being remembered as the night that Canada’s first home-grown Islamist terror cell came crashing down.
Among the men and women gathered in the room was an outsider named Mubin Shaikh, 30. He didn’t attend the same Mississauga or Scarborough mosques as the supporters in the hall, and he didn’t know many of the people in the room.
But he had instructions: Get to know Fahim Ahmad, the young man believed by authorities to be behind the gun-smuggling operation and an emerging terrorist cell.
The outsider approached Mr. Ahmad and told him about his training as a six-year member of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets. He told him about his survival skills and weapons training. He also told Mr. Ahmad that he believed firmly in jihad.
By the end of the evening, Mr. Shaikh was in.
That was 10 months ago, and since then, in media reports around the world, Mr. Ahmad has been identified as the ringleader of the so-called â€œToronto 17,â€ the group of men and teenagers tied into an alleged plot to blow up three targets in Southern Ontario and storm Parliament Hill.
This is the story of the 18th man, the civilian mole and devout Muslim paid by CSIS and the RCMP to infiltrate Mr. Ahmad’s circle and thwart an alleged plot to blow up those targets. Over a series of discussions with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Shaikh detailed his motives for bringing down the alleged terrorist cell. Above all, violence in Canada in the name of Islam cannot be tolerated, said Mr. Shaikh, who says he has learned to juggle his fierce commitment to both Islam and the secular values of Canadian society.
On one hand, he is an official at his west-end mosque, supports the jihads in Afghanistan and Iraq and was one of the most public supporters of the failed bid to introduce Shariâ€™ah law in Ontario, occasionally commenting on the debate on television.
On the other, he is also a onetime member of the York South-Weston Liberal Riding Association, whose family keeps a sticker of the Canadian flag on their mailbox.
â€œAs a practising Muslim, the interests of the Muslim community are paramount,â€ Mr. Shaikh said.
â€œAnd as a Canadian, the safety and security of my fellow citizens is also primary.â€
Mr. Shaikh started his new job more than two years ago when his Ottawa friend, 27-year-old Momin Khawaja, was arrested by the RCMP and accused of taking part in a foiled United Kingdom bomb plot.
Mr. Shaikh said he contacted the authorities because he thought he might be able to help in their investigation, and before long, he was put through the most rigorous of job interviews.
There was a polygraph test and some strange fact-gathering assignments. He also said he sought permission from his imam to join ranks with Canada’s spy service â€” permission that was granted.
As far as he could tell, he was one of the few bearded and brown-skinned employees of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, but he says he never picked up any anti-Islamist sentiment. The agents’ only concern was the welfare of Canada, he said.
He soon became accustomed to the routine of being an agent: wearing a wire and flying to remote locations. One mission to Yemen to infiltrate a training camp, he said, ended unsuccessfully when authorities there didn’t let him enter the country.
Instead, Mr. Shaikh spent five days detained at the airport. Eventually, CSIS brought him back home. He financed his work by going to secret locations and receiving cash handoffs.
Those payments increased when he inserted himself into Mr. Ahmad’s circle â€” and so did the stakes.
Only two months after the banquet hall meeting, Mr. Shaikh joined Mr. Ahmad and some other young men on a 160-kilometre road trip to a snow-covered forest in Ramara Township, population 15,000.
For two weeks over the Christmas holidays, young men in military fatigues wandered around in the wilderness firing paintball guns and real guns and annoying the neighbours.
One of those neighbours was a grey-haired recluse who doesn’t own a phone. He was so annoyed that he left his trailer and travelled down the dirt road where the campers had parked their cars.
He wrote down the licence plate numbers of the four cars blocking his road and filed the information with the rest of the scattered documents he keeps in his Dodge minivan.
Six months later, a few days after the campers were arrested and accused of being terrorists, the hermit handed the licence plate numbers to a Globe reporter who went to see the training camp for himself.
Almost all of the licence plates made sense. Three of them were registered to the family members of Zakaria Amara, Ahmad Ghany and Qayyum Abdul Jamal â€” all of whom have been taken into custody on the terrorism charges.
But there was a fourth licence plate, attached to a blue minivan, that didn’t fit.
It was registered to Mr. Shaikh’s younger brother, Abu Shaikh.
Even with his extensive training on how to be clandestine, Mubin Shaikh does not blend in well at Toronto’s busiest intersection, the corner of Front and Bay Streets.
His long beard, which ends just below his pectoral muscles, and his
kurta, a flowing grey robe, are in stark contrast with the commuters in collared shirts who whiz by on their way to the GO Train.
He stands on the corner describing his â€œsurrealâ€ predicament to a Globe reporter. Since the beginning of the investigation, he’s had to repeatedly prove his loyalty to both his employer and his emir, Mr. Ahmad.
One day during the investigation, he was driving Mr. Ahmad somewhere while being followed by undercover police officers.
When Mr. Ahmad noted that they were being tailed, the agent weaved through lanes of traffic, trying to shake off the people who pay his salary, he said.
He is also, he said, fearful of any reprisals that may stem from his co-operation in the case. Many people in the Muslim community suspect he was involved and the agent worries that a tiny fraction of them might take issue with him.
But he’s prepared to be scrutinized by all of his Canadian Muslim brothers and the defense lawyers of the accused, who will no doubt vigorously examine him about the $77,000 he says he’s earned, and the $300,000 he says he’s owed.
He acknowledged that his past isn’t completely unblemished, and that he didn’t completely embrace Islam until he was a young man after making trips to India, Pakistan and the Middle East.
He is now a married father, and his wife, a Polish convert to Islam, is expecting another child.
Some parts of his past, and his family’s past, will surely be revealed in court if the cases make it to trial.
Last year, his father was charged with sexual assault after a woman said she had been fondled by an Islamic chaplain who was supposed to be counselling her through a divorce. The outcome of that case is unknown to The Globe.
When asked about the accusation against his father, whose name is Mohammad Shahied Shaikh, Mr. Shaikh said he didn’t want to discuss it.
The RCMP mole was also once a witness at a friend’s second-degree murder trial and his testimony was the subject of an appeal.
Mr. Shaikh was also once accused of assaulting his aunt and was charged criminally, Mr. Shaikh told The Globe. Those charges were dropped, Mr. Shaikh said, adding that his credibility will remain intact with people who truly know him.
â€œLet the courts do their thing, and the evidence will come out there,â€ he said.