Canadian Mounties outside the home of Mahboob A. Khawaja in Orleans
A handful of Ottawa Muslims were being questioned last night in what authorities described as an international terror probe that saw heavily-armed Mounties storm the home of one of the city’s most prominent Muslims.
At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, RCMP tactical units, acting on security intelligence briefs, fanned out across the city, arresting one young Muslim man and questioning several others.
The raids followed a month-long RCMP surveillance operation targeting the Orleans home of Mahboob A. Khawaja, who is presently teaching at a university in Saudi Arabia.
Reached there last night, Mr. Khawaja said he was “extremely disturbed” by the raid.
“It’s nothing more than a hoax to create embarrassment,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t have the facts about why they would raid my house and take my two children into custody.”
The Mounties forced their way into his home, but their target was nowhere to be found. Instead, they found two of Mr. Khawaja’s adult children.
His wife, Azra, had gone out for some afternoon shopping and was picked up by police at a shopping centre.
Later in the day, RCMP arrested a Muslim man linked to the house.
According to his friends, one of Mr. Khawaja’s four sons was taken away yesterday by RCMP as he walked the hallways of the University of Ottawa, school books in hand.
Mohsan Khawaja has not been charged with any crime and the RCMP would not say why they wanted to talk with the economics student. His brother, Tanzeel Khawaja, studies at Carleton University.
The RCMP would not disclose details of the probe. However, Qamar Masood, president of the Canada-Pakistan Association of the National Capital Region, arrived at the home last night. He says he later spoke with Mr. Khawaja’s wife. “She said they think that they were making bombs or something of that nature. But she said, of course, that’s impossible.”
Mr. Khawaja also said the police alleged that his children had been making bombs.
“Bombs? I don’t think there is any substance to this allegation,” said Mr. Khawaja. “No way. It’s nothing more than a hoax. Maybe some kids were picking on them — but no way, they’re educated guys … It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know my children, they’re not involved in this kind of thing. We are a very peaceful educated family. We have nothing to do with this notion of security risk, or bomb making This whole thing sounds absurd to me. It’s created a lot of inconvenience for my family,” Mr. Khawaja said.
So far, only one suspect has been arrested. He has yet to be named, let alone charged, although police expect to make a “major announcement” later this week.
The RCMP insisted yesterday that Mr. Khawaja’s family, including his wife and some of the adult children, were not being held.
Yesterday’s raid has rattled Ottawa’s tight-knit Muslim community, with many expressing fears of more arrests. Others hope that police suspicions are a misunderstanding.
“They are a very nice family with nice kids and well liked in the community,” said Fazal Khan, a longtime friend and president of Islamic Society of Cumberland.
Mr. Khan said one of the Khawaja sons, Momin, worked for the federal government as a computer engineer.
Momin Khawaja could often be seen praying at Bilal Mosque on Innes Road in Blackburn Hamlet. The mosque, a converted house, has a basketball net in the lane, much like the one at the family’s middle-class home.
“I just hope that this is all a misunderstanding,” said Mr. Khan.
Mr. Khawaja has five children, four sons: Mohsan, Tanzeel, Momin and Qasim, and one daughter, Sabeen. His children were born and raised in Canada, while Mr. Khawaja teaches abroad.
The family is respected within the Muslim community, and praised for their intelligence and volunteer work.
Mr. Khawaja, an academic who has authored several publications on conflict resolution, including a book, Muslims and the West: Quest for Change and Conflict Resolution, which was published in 2000.
In the book, Mr. Khawaja argues for a better understanding of fundamentalism, noting that it is often laden with “negative connotations.” The author analyses world conflict and the difficulty of finding “meeting grounds” for the two societies. He has also criticized Arab leaders as “leaderless.”
He wrote this about the invasion of Iraq: “American and specially-hired Brits — Tony Blair’s war protagonists — do believe that it was a real war fought against Saddam Hussein (their former faithful client), and it ended in American victory and success even though the WMD hoax was a stage drama, nothing other than a planned deception and treachery to the collective conscience of humanity that demonstrated strong opposition against the American planned war.
“Arab leaders celebrate the American success in Iraq, but prey at their own people under the disguise of terrorism to dispel any sign of public resentment against the American intransigence and aggression in Iraq. Even the Arab League … could not dare to name America as the aggressor in Iraq. Deception and treachery knows no bound,” wrote Mr. Khawaja, who has a PhD.
Neighbours and friends of the quiet family were shaken yesterday when the convoy of heavily armed RCMP officers stormed the home, located at 672 Princess Louise Dr.
They broke through the front door of the white, two-storey home.
Into the night, the RCMP could be seen scouring the house for clues. The house was cordoned off with police tape and is being treated as a crime scene.
As of late last night, Cpl. Nathalie Deschenes would only say that the raid was part of a “criminal investigation” and the residents of the home in Orleans were not in custody. No charges have been laid.
Those who lived in the house were asked to leave while police prepared for an intense search. At times, up to 20 Mounties could be seen coming and going from the property.
As day turned to night, Mounties could be seen eating takeout chicken, delivered in a dinner wagon.
The RCMP approached neighbours about a month ago, asking for permission to use their property to stage around-the-clock surveillance from unmarked cars, parked in a driveway three doors down.
Sulaiman Khan, director of Islamic Information and Education Centre on Lisgar Street, was stunned by the news of the raid.
“I’ve known them for many years and the boys are exemplary in their behaviour,” said Mr. Khan.
“The boys are very quiet, they’re never boisterous or loud. Everybody in the community knows them because they are so good.”