WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities drew their first firm link Friday between Canada and Al Qaeda-trained terrorists since the Sept. 11 hijackings, identifying two Canadian citizens who are suspected of plotting suicide attacks against America.
The two Tunisian-born men, a known Al Qaeda operative and his associate, are thought to have left Canada some months ago and are on the lam, law enforcement officials said.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said he did not know whether the men might be in the United States. Even so, he urged the public to be on the lookout for the pair. The Justice Department released photographs of the men, Al Rauf bin Al Habib bin Yousef Al-Jiddi, 36, and Faker Boussora, 37. Ashcroft said they should be considered "extremely dangerous."
Although Ashcroft's repeated terrorist-related warnings since Sept. 11 have drawn criticism from some quarters as excessive and somewhat alarmist, the attorney general and his advisors said in releasing the new photos that the public should have as much information as possible and use "vigilance and common sense" to help deter attacks.
The identification of the pair will likely focus renewed attention on security concerns in Canada, which some critics branded a "Club Med for terrorists" in 1999 after an Algerian-born resident tried to sneak into the U.S. with a trunkload of explosives.
Jiddi represents the first Al Qaeda operative "positively identified" as a citizen of Canada since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, said Dan Brien, a spokesman for the Canadian solicitor general.
"To this point, we haven't had any evidence of a link between Canada and the events of Sept. 11," Brien said. "There's a lot of interest in [Jiddi and Boussora] because now there's a name and a face. We've been saying for some time that there are people involved in terrorism in this country--as there are in every industrialized country in the world. Our job is to bring them to justice and make sure they don't carry out their terrorist acts."
Jiddi was one of five suspected Al Qaeda operatives identified in videotaped messages of anti-American martyrdom that the U.S. military found in the rubble of a top Osama bin Laden aide's home in Afghanistan some weeks ago.
Ashcroft identified the other four operatives publicly last week, but authorities had been unable to put a name with Jiddi's face until they matched him to a suicide letter also found in the rubble.
With the aid of Canadian law enforcement, U.S. officials traced Jiddi to Montreal, where he apparently lived after his arrival in Canada in 1991 until recently. He became a Canadian citizen in 1995. U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officials said they believe he left the area several months ago, but it is not known whether it was before or after Sept. 11.
Boussora, an unlikely looking terrorist suspect, with a boyish face and what Ashcroft called "prominent ears," was described as a known associate of Jiddi who authorities believe may be traveling with him.
Boussora is also a Canadian.
Montreal was also the home in the late 1990s of Ahmed Ressam, the would-be terrorist whose plot to bomb LAX in December 1999 was thwarted when he was discovered at the U.S. border north of Seattle with explosives in his car. It was later revealed he had trained at two jihad terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
U.S. investigators want to determine whether Ressam may have known Jiddi and Boussora or whether they traveled in the same circles in Canada.
In a separate development, forensic evidence taken from the sneakers worn by bombing suspect Richard C. Reid indicates he may not have acted alone when he allegedly attempted to blow up a Miami-bound plane last month, CNN reported. Palm prints and hair samples taken from the shoes did not belong to the 28-year-old British citizen, the network reported.