Hezbollah network operating in Canada, official says

TORONTO — An underground network of some 50 to 100 operatives are directly involved in Hezbollah activities in Canada, according to a former official of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the security agency, told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper Monday that Hezbollah operatives are likely raising funds, gathering intelligence and collecting weapons in Canada.

His comments come a week after the agency maintained in a court document subsequently made public that the pro-Iranian fundamentalist movement based in Lebanon had established "an infrastructure" in Canada involving people who "receive and comply with direction from the Hezbollah leadership hierarchy in Lebanon."

The claim was made by the agency in a Canadian federal court document that provided evidence in a deportation case against Hani Abd Rahim al-Sayegh, a Saudi national who applied for refugee status upon arriving in Canada in August.

After reports late last month of Hezbollah's presence, the Canadian Jewish Congress issued a statement urging the Canadian government to take stronger action against terrorists here.

The Canadian Arab Federation, meanwhile, called upon the government to refrain from creating a climate of accusations and paranoia in the absence of concrete evidence.

Sayegh was allegedly involved in the June 25, 1996 terrorist bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 U.S. soldiers and wounded nearly 400 others. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia are seeking his extradition.

He was arrested March 18 in Ottawa.

"I think that the intelligence community of Canada has done a good job in terms of identifying this person and deterring him," said Rob Ritter, executive director of the Canada-Israel Committee, a Canadian organization that promotes relations between the two countries.

"However, we have many concerns regarding the infiltration of Hezbollah terrorists into Canada. This is not a surprise to us — we expected their existence for a long time.

"Hezbollah's networking is probably global, and Canada is probably one of many of their international addresses."

Much of the security agency's information about Hezbollah activities in Canada apparently originated with Mohammed Hussein al-Husseini, who came here as a refugee in 1991 but was later deemed a terrorist threat and deported to Lebanon.

While much of the agency's information on Husseini and Sayegh is sealed, the agency's public summary of evidence in the Sayegh case consists of hundreds of pages of documents and articles attesting to Hezbollah's presence here.

According to some media reports, Sayegh has acknowledged his association with Hezbollah operatives in Saudi Arabia.

He is being held in maximum-security detention as he awaits an April 28 deportation hearing.