In the ruins of a dusty al Qaeda compound in Ayub Kheil, a remote village in Afghanistan, 15-year-old Canadian-born Omar Khadr secured his position behind a crumbling, bullet-riddled wall and threw the Russian grenade that would change his life forever.
Canada to pay ex-Gitmo prisoner $8M
Canada to pay ex-Gitmo prisoner $8M
It landed him a decade behind bars in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — as the detention center’s youngest prisoner — where he claimed he was tortured. It also put him at the front and center of protracted legal battles in two countries.
And finally, last week, it made him a millionaire.
On Friday, the Canadian government offered a stunning apology to the former al Qaeda militant, and deposited US $8 million in his bank account.
“We hope that this expression, and the negotiated settlement reached with the government, will assist him in his efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in his life with his fellow Canadians,” reads the statement from the Liberal government Friday.
Omar Khadr as a teenager.Reuters
How Omar, now 30, went from al Qaeda militant to soft-spoken “victim” is a bitter controversy that has divided a country for more than a decade.
Some consider him the survivor of the worst kind of abuses — a helpless child forced into conflict by a fundamentalist father. But others see him as a hardened terrorist and coldblooded killer.
“This payout is a slap in the face to men and women in uniform who face incredible danger every day to keep us safe,” Canadian Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said.
He certainly had the terrorist’s pedigree.
Omar Khadr was born in Toronto on Sept. 19, 1986, the son of a Palestinian mother and an Egyptian father who had deep ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and would later become one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted lieutenants. After 9/11, the FBI added the elder Khadr to its list of most wanted for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Omar was the third son, and grew up with four brothers and two sisters, shuttling between his maternal grandmother’s home in a down-at-the-heels Toronto suburb and a home in Peshawar, Pakistan, where his father Ahmed Khadr ran charities, some of which were used to funnel money to terrorists.
In 1995, Ahmed was arrested in Pakistan on charges that he financed the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad that killed the suicide bomber and 16 others. At the time of the attack, his eldest daughter, Zaynab, was engaged to Egyptian Khalid Abdullah, who was accused of buying one of the trucks used in the attack.
Ahmed proclaimed his innocence, and went on a hunger strike that put him in a hospital.
News photographs show Omar, then a curly-haired 9-year-old, at his father’s hospital bedside as the family tearfully appealed to the Canadian government for his release.
In a remarkable precursor of what was to happen to Omar more than two decades later, the Canadian government rallied behind Ahmed as one of its own — never mind that he was a suspected terrorist.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, then on a trade mission to Pakistan, intervened with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Ahmed’s behalf. Ahmed was released a few months later. When he and his family got off the plane in Toronto, Ahmed kissed the ground.
But the family didn’t stay in Canada for long. Soon they returned to Pakistan, where Ahmed resumed his “charitable” work, building connections with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
“While traveling with his father, Omar saw and personally met senior al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Dr. [Ayman] Zawahiri, Muhammad Atef and Sair al Adel,” the US military said.
Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s military strategist, is today the leader of the group. Atef was the military head of al Qaeda before he was killed in a US drone strike in 2001 and al Adel was indicted for the 1998 attack on the US Embassy in Kenya that left more than 200 dead. He is still at large.
The family also lived in the bin Laden family compound in Jalalabad where Omar and his brothers were sent to al Qaeda training camps.
According to US and Canadian security forces, Ahmed was one of the main financiers of those camps. A month before he joined an al Qaeda cell in 2002, Omar was sent by his father for private instruction in explosives and combat, according to the military.
The plan was for Omar to join a cell made up of al Qaeda and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group as a fighter and translator, since besides English, he speaks Pashto, Arabic, Dari and some French.
Omar learned to launch rocket-propelled grenades and became skilled at planting improvised explosive devices that were used to blow up US armored vehicles in Afghanistan. Amid the rubble at the Ayub Kheil compound, US Special Forces unearthed videos showing Omar and another al Qaeda operative planting roadside bombs in Afghanistan.