"We are an Al Qaeda family." So spoke one of the Khadrs, a Muslim Canadian household whose near single-minded devotion to Osama bin Laden contains important lessons for the West.
Their saga began in 1975, when Ahmad Said al-Khadr left his native Egypt for Canada and soon after married a local Palestinian woman. He studied computer engineering at the University of Ottawa and engaged in research for a major telecommunications firm. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Khadr went to work for Human Concern International, an Ottawa-based charity founded in 1980 with the purported aim to "alleviate human suffering," but with a record of promoting militant Islam.
In 1985, in the course of working in Afghanistan, Khadr met bin Laden and became his close associate. Sometimes Khadr was described as the highest ranking of Al Qaeda's 75 Canadian operatives.
The federal Canadian government, living up to its naïve reputation, contributed $325,000 in Canadian dollars to HCI. From 1988 to 1997 in particular, HCI was simultaneously receiving Canadian taxpayer funding and working with Al Qaeda.
The bureaucratic ingénues in Ottawa continued to find nothing wrong with Khadr even after his arrest by Pakistani authorities in 1995 for siphoning off HCI funds to pay for an Al Qaeda terrorist operation that year — an attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, which killed 18. Quite the contrary, Canada's prime minister, Jean Chrétien took advantage of a state visit to Pakistan to intercede with his Pakistani counterpart on Khadr's behalf.
This highly unusual step succeeded; Khadr was soon released, and returned to Canada. In 1996, he and his wife set up an Islamic charity they named "Health and Education Project International." When the Taliban took control in Afghanistan a few months later, the parents and their six children decamped there. As he worked closely with bin Laden, Khadr became known for his militant Islamic vitriol, leading one Frenchman in Afghanistan to observe about him," I never met such hostility, someone so against the West."
Like other Al Qaeda leaders, Khadr disappeared from view soon after 9/11. He spent two years on the lam, reappearing only in October 2003,when Pakistani forces unexpectedly found that the DNA of one unrecognizable corpse from a bloody shootout matched Khadr's.
The terrorism-related activities of other Khadr family members — wife, one of two daughters, three of four sons — complement their patriarch's record.
- Wife Maha Elsamnah took her then 14-year-old son Omar from Canada to Pakistan in 2001 and enrolled him for Al Qaeda training.
- Daughter Zaynab, 23, was engaged to one terrorist and married, with Osama bin Laden himself present at the nuptials, a Qaeda member in 1999. Zaynab endorses the 9/11 atrocities and hopes her infant daughter will die fighting Americans.
- Son Abdullah, 22, is a Qaeda fugitive constantly on the move to elude capture. Canadian intelligence states he ran a Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, something Abdullah denies.
- Son Omar, 17, stands accused of hurling a grenade in July 2002, killing an American medic in Afghanistan. Omar lost sight in one eye in the fighting and is now a U.S. detainee in Guantánamo.
- Son Abdul Karim, 14, half-paralyzed by wounds sustained in the October 2003 shoot-out that left his father dead, is presently prisoner in a Pakistani hospital.
Fortunately, there is also one positive story:
- Son Abdurahman, 21, reluctantly trained with Al Qaeda, was captured by coalition forces in November 2001 and agreed to work for the Central Intelligence Agency in Kabul, Guantánamo, and Bosnia. He returned to Canada in October 2003, where he denounced both extremism ("I want to be a good, strong, civilized, peaceful Muslim" ) and his family's terroristic ways.
While an unusual case, the Khadr family's horrifying history serves as a warning, pointing to the danger of Muslim parents in North America and Europe who stray so deeply into militant Islamic currents that, Palestinian-style, they seek to turn their children into militant Islamic weapons to be turned against their own countries.
This pattern is yet rare, but it might well become more widespread as the second generation of Islamist children in the West comes of age. The key in the Khadr case, as it will likely be for others, is isolation within a militant Islamic environment — schools, press, social life. Preventing such self-segregation must be an urgent policy goal throughout the West.
Apr. 9, 2004 update: For new information on the Khadr family as it breaks, see my weblog entry, "The Khadrs, Canada's First Family of Terrorism, in the News."