Trail of a Terrorist

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What are the lessons you draw from the story of Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressam's millennium plot?
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Dear FRONTLINE,

As usual, you have put together a well-researched, concisely given detailed account of what and who we are up against in the world of terrorism. Every person in every country is on the front line. And vigilance must be the price we pay for our freedoms. It would be interesting to ask your viewers, what U.S. President first called for an international effort on terrorism. Hint: it was in 1971, after the Black September movement was formed--a group that still exists today under command of the Abu Nidal group, the forerunners of Hammas. Don't believe me, just visit the U.S. State Dept. site on international terrorists. Thanks again.

rochester, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

Though I'm a fan of your show, a few points need be mentioned.

I am no apologist for Canadian immigration policy - with a brother and friends who worked at a port of entry I'm well aware of the numerous bogus refugee claims that go unopposed for various reasons.

It should be noted however, that the majority of these refugees do not come from Canada straight from overseas - they come from well-established underground channels from New York and Washington, D.C.

As well, despite initial reports that were aired unchecked, there is no evidence that any of the Sept. 11 terrorists entered the U.S. through Canada.

The Ressam case is very disturbing - but so too is the case of the initial WTC bombing, where the bombers were well-established in Jersey with enough explosives to blow up the city.

John Harrington
toronto, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

Right now, I'm very disgusted to be a Canadian. What makes this even more appalling is even after September 11th, we still don't get it here in Canada.

A large percentage of Canadians still believe that terrorism won't happen in or involve Canada because were to nice and bad things don't happen to nice people. What a joke!

My wife and I speak from experince having lived in Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Central America, We've seen first hand the length to which people will LIE to try to get into Canada. My wife works in the Medical Field and part of her job is to do some of the blood screening for people applying for Canadian visas. Some of the stories, sorry lies she was told on applications which she related to me were downright scary. She was threatened both in and out of work about not approving certain "important people" on their blood work and both of us slept with our passports because twice our flat was broken into and our safe was stolen.

It's time to pull your head out of your a--hole Canada, unless we wake up to the fact that alot of these people aren't good people and will do anything to get into Canada, things will only get worse. Things can be easily changed by laying down a few ground rules I feel. First, correct me if I'm wrong but if someone is claiming refugee status shouldn't they at least look a little like a refugee? If a person shows up with silk shirts and tailored pants and a laptop computer under one arm, how bad can life really be? "Yes Mr. immigration officer I was in prison and tortured but after my escape I had time to stop by my house and pick up my silks and my laptop". If you want to see real refugees just watch the news everynight and see those poor people trying to get into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Another easy step is to tell refugee claimants that we will accept your application for asylum but if anything you tell us from this point on turns out to a lie or only half true then you application is forfeit. Finally, the time has come that society stops being so mamby pamby and takes responsibility for their actions. If these blood sucking ambulance chasing lawyers want to defend these liars so they can make a few bucks then hold them responsible when they guarantee their clients will show up and don't. Throw a few lawyers in jail and hang a charge like aiding a terrorist and you watch how fast people start caring and doing their job.

P.S. Canada will never have to worry about an anthrax scare because Bin Laden would never release it here. That would kill the golden goose and block his free ride into the United States.

Jeff Dosen
port coquitlam, british columbia


Dear FRONTLINE,

Before, the citizenry of the democratic Republic of the USA, get overly excited about claims of "lax" immigration laws in Canada, let us put a few things in prospective:

1) The large majority of claims for refugee status do come from individuals applying at the Canada/USA border - not - from abroad. (ie They are coming from USA soil.)

2) Our immigration laws were designed to be humanitarian - and that is the real world view of Canada. It is only because of the remote and exceptional cases such as the current terrorism acts directed towards the USA that humanitarian intent gets misconscrued and viewed to be "lax".

3) Guns are illegal in Canada - not so in the USA.

4) Canada unhesitantly put itself at risk by opening its airspace, airfields, and homes to the full diversion of international aircraft diverted (and refused) by the USA on the Sept 11 during the moment of catastrophy and panic. Maybe your USA viewers of and USA representatives interviewed for Trail of a Terrorist would view this also to be "lax". We in Canada view our action as humanitarian.

5) Your FAA and Congress ignored reports in 1992 and 1996 regarding aircraft safety which recommended secure (and bulletproof ) cockpit doors. Such would have prevented the catastrophy of Sept 11. Little or nothing has been said in your media about this ignorance, even though, less than $100 million would have equiped all aircraft in North America with such. Instead, the result is the unnecessary loss of thousands of life and a "recovery budget" to exceed $100 billion.

I say to our USA neighbors, examine things first at home BEFORE you point negative fingers north, or elsewhere. Refurbish and support the state of investigative reporting in your media (insist on it) so you too can be informed and aware of the "errors of your ways".

Canada learned from mistakes made and has passed legislation to make Canada more secure.We here in the Great White North, anxiously await for the USA to do the same.

winnipeg, manitoba, canada


Dear FRONTLINE,

An excellent documentary. Thank you. Canada's immigration policy is absolutely ridiculous and, as in the US, has been for years, putting their citizens' lives in jeopardy while they bend over backwards to be 'country bountiful.' Believe me, this is well known around the world. At least the US is taking giant steps to correct this disastrous oversight - albeit, closing the barn door, etc. etc. \

Here in the US this laxity on the part of Congress was more out of consideration for the corporate bottom line than the need to help the poor refugee. So visa status was adjusted to allow educated well-trained people from all countries to flood in. They usually stayed.

I would love FRONTLINE to do a program on who exactly has been responsible for allowing our 'open border' policy, and exactly who benefited all these years. There was certainly no consideration given to the cost to local taxpayers of allowing thousands into our small towns, overwhelming our school systems, housing availability, and, in the case of a downturn in the economy, the large unemployment rolls. A number of well-meaning church groups sponsored many of the millions flooding in - and we are all paying for their 'generosity.'

J Davis
minneapolis, minnesota


Dear FRONTLINE,

U.S. immigration laws clearly need to be changed. The problem is that it has become "politically incorrect" for a politician to suggest this and remains so.

It is incomprehensible to me that the US continues to allow people from Arab countries to immigrate daily considering what has happened. If the US has been attacked by people from these countries, does this make sense? Senator Toricelli attributes more than 50% of US population growth to immigration. Just how much do we want our population to grow, and with whom? We are a country built on immigration, however, the times demand some changes.

woodbridge, nj


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks for a most informative documentary. You have given US citizens a more clear picture of what we and the world faces. I am glad you made such a thorough and well presented documentary. It makes me less fearful to know the facts of how these people operate and it has to be a text book for the US government agencie, FBI, CIA, CDC, etch to follow.

Nelson King
pittsburgh, , pa


Dear FRONTLINE,

I am appauled at what I've just learned about Ahmed Ressam. I was not that familiar with him or what he did. I deal with many Canadians on a daily basis. I feel now that Canada is a safe haven. I cannot believe who or what comes through it's borders. This is insane. I don't mean to sound so critical, but this is terrible.

There needs to be records of incoming and outgoing individuals. This cannot happen. I'm sorry, but with today's technology, this should not be a problem. I work with computers and I know this is not impossible.

Look at what is happening. The United States is prone to terrorism no matter how you look at it, but the Canadian system is definately lacking.

Sharon G
akron, oh


Dear FRONTLINE,

Great program. Thanks for going beyond the networks anthrax obsession to present a factual informative program with an international perspective. Keep it up.

As for Canada's immigration challenges, I think that we in the US have many of our own. As Confucius said, "Don't complain about the snow on your neighbor's roof when your own doorstep is unclean."

denver, co


Dear FRONTLINE,

Today the islamic militants are the modern version of Hitler's "Fifth Column". Like it or not they are identified as Muslims, and they are supported and sheltered, perhaps unwittingly by, Muslim communities. For example there is a large Muslim community in Patterson NJ, and a sizeable number of them were dancing in the streets on September 11. The anthrax mailings also seem to have a north New Jersey connection. One reads of protests from Muslim communities the world over about the U.S. efforts to snare Bin Laden in Afghanitan. Few religions have leaders that both manage their countries and espouse violence as in Afghanistan and Iran. September 11th was a day of extraordinary violence whose source has never been in doubt. It should have been met with bone chilling violence that would have stopped Islamic terrorism in its tracks for fear of similar reprisals, by the complete destruction of Afghanistan. In total war there are no innocent civilians, the Afghans are responsible for the actions of their leaders, as were the Germans and the Japanese in WWII. The concept of dropping bombs and food at the same time is ludicrous. Noel Coward wrote a song about not being beastly to the Germans, it could be updated now to refer to the Afghans. Hopefully the current action will elliminate Bin Laden and his organization in Afghanistan, but until the Muslim communities round the world cease to shelter and support the terrorist cells the onslaught will continue and Islam will be forever known as a religion of intolerance and violence.

Edward Nisbett
navarre, florida


Dear FRONTLINE,

I believe the documentary "Trail of a Terrorists" was well executed, however I do feel that the program was inconclusive, racist and very critical to Arabs. This type of documentary is exactly why Americans lack knowledge of the Middle East.

The Arabic population are a very solid, good working class of people who have striven through very tough times. Some countries have little hope, like Palestine who are oppressed by Israel everyday. Iraq who are bombed continuously by the U.S. Let us not forget that, forever.

As a Canadian who was born and raised in Montreal as a half French/Palestinian I was excited to see what kind of documentary actual Canadians would produce. I expected a liberal open-minded view of why this is happening and not how it happened. Instead we got a documentary that trashes the Canadian immigration system. Represents poor perception of what Middle Eastern people truly are. Last but not least the whole program sounded absolutely exaggerated and based on speculation.

Next time, make a documentary on why this is happening. Try Palestine, if you could get there without an Israeli soldier pointing a gun to your face I congratulate you. Because this is what Palestinians live through everyday.

Victor Erdose
new york, new york


Dear FRONTLINE,

I think it is imperative that we should intensify security at both the Canadian and Mexican borders.

I just recently read an item in the Hanford Sentinel about 96 Iraquis who according to AP were being held in a detention center in Mexico City. They had been apprehended at Tijuana and sent to the capitol of Mexico for further interrogation, I presume. According to the article these were "Iraqui Chaldean Christians seeking refuge in the US". My first thought was "How would we know this is true"? Apparently they were quite upset at being detained and had made the comment"We are educated people, we are not criminals. Why are we being treated like this?"

I can't help but wonder how many people of the Arabic nations have come into the US through Mexican border and how long it has been going on. A chilling thought is how many Ressams have we already got living here ? And, just before September 11, 2001, we had the President of Mexico here talking to us about opening up the borders permanently so the people could come and go freely!!! Just how stupid have we been? How apathetic?

Our borders must be protected and kept at maximum security. If not, we are heading into a disaster none of us will recover from. I don't think it's just the Islamic fundamentalists who hate us, it's much bigger and wider than we think.

I think we need to become aware of who our next door neighbor is, we need to open ourselves up to dialogue with everyone we meet in order to identify questionable people who may just be here with a hidden agenda.

Edwina M. Marino
claremont, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

There was so much in your documentary and it was very well done. I feel as overwhelmed as I did in the days following the WTC attack. I love Canada and have visited there many times.

I have always thought that we Americans are very naive and our Canadians neighbors even more so. I think Americans have thought that anyone who really knew us wouldn't wish us harm and the Canadians have thought no one would wish them harm even without knowing them.

I was shocked to learn that one could be an immigrant/assylum seeker in Canada, commit crimes and still maintain immigration status. It's pollyanaish at best.

Responding to your documentary, is for me a way to get a grip on all of this......I am still sorting everything out. There is so much to take in, so much to uncover and so much more to understand. Vigilance is the order of the day.

Susan Strong-Dowd
chicago, illinois


Dear FRONTLINE,

The Ressam case is a severe indictment of the Canadian refugee system. IIt is hard to understand, though, how the legislative tinkering recently undertaken by the Government of Canada will rectify the current problem with regards to ease-of-entry to Canada and by extension, the United States.

The fundamental flaw of the Canadian refugee system is that anyone who declares themselves to be a refugee to Canada Customs is entitled to the same protections and privileges accorded to any Canadian citizen. This constitutional status was defined in a Supreme Court decision that interpreted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as applying, not only to Canadian citizens, but also to refugee claimants. At a stroke, The Supreme Court, in effect, extended Canadian citizenship to anyone in the world who declares at the Canadian border the magic words ìI am a refugeeî.

However, The Government of Canada does have a legal tool to override this Supreme Court decision without re-writing the constitution. Contained within the constitutional amendments of 1982, of which the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms a part, is the so-called 'Notwithstanding Clauseí. This clause allows the federal government to override a decision of The Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the chances of the Canadian government resorting to use of the 'Notwithstanding Clause' in this or any circumstance are next to nil.

Who is using the system: Though it welcomes about five times as many people a year, the Canadian immigration system is less open than the Canadian refugee system. It does not allow just anyone to enter the country. It operates on a merit system whereby potential immigrants are judged by language skills, employment skills, family connections, investment capital, and so forth. This system creates waits of many months to several years for applicants to know the success of their submission. The relative difficulty of gaining admission to Canada by these channels as opposed to the relative ease of entry through the refugee system creates a powerful incentive for queue-jumping.

Most refugee claimants arrive by international aircraft flights. A sizeable percentage of these claimants (40% say some) have no documentation when they are received by Canada Customs.

How is it that so many people are getting on aircraft without documentation? As this is unlikely, what is happening to the missing documents on the flight? Why does the refugee consider his document to be a liability to his claim to be a refugee?

The most likely answer is that the documents are either forged, borrowed or stolen. The documents are either destroyed on-board or, as they are valuable, are returned to a courier on the flight. These assumptions mean that the refugee applicant is involved in either, at best, petty fraud in the use of documents or, at worst, organized human smuggling rings. Fake documents and human smuggling services do not come cheap. Also, transoceanic airfare is usually higher than the per-capita annual income of acknowledged refugee-source countries. These factors force the question of who are these people? How does a genuine refugee access to as much as $5,000 to pay for documents and airfare and how does he have the connections to organize such a trip?

Most likely, these claimants are not genuine refugees, as their ability to raise funds indicates... Also, these claimants have been encouraged to act in a duplicitous manner by the incentive created by the two competing systems of entry to Canada (immigration v. refugee). Hopefully, their duplicity is limited to gaining of access and will end there.

Another alarming question is why are so many refugee claimants to Canada coming by way of the United States or another Canadian-recognized Geneva Convention ëhavení country? The number of people who do this is thousands a year. Obviously, many feel that they have a lower likelihood of being deported from Canada. Of gratification is that those entering Canada from the United States as refugees are unlikely to being doing so to use Canada as the supposed ëterrorist aircraft-carrierí.

The results of a refugee application: Surprisingly, the Canadian refugee system accepts a disproportionately high number of claimants as refugees given the large number who arrive under suspicious circumstances. As many as six times the number of refugees are accepted in Canada per application as are accepted in Europe, where simple geography would indicate a higher percentage of refugee claimants are likely to be genuine. At any rate, if an applicant is rejected, Canada has a dubious record at successful deportation, as the Ressam case displays.

James Feasby
ottawa, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

I guess a balance we are trying to draw is freedom vs. safety. This morning I listened to a Washington Post reporter on NPR complaining about the loss of freedom represented by the photo speed traps used in Europe. Believe me, I'd accept these plus the reasonable fines I've seen in Germany in lieu of the high fines and insurance points we have in NJ. A lesson I took from your program is the passport issue. It seems to me that iris scanning technology offers a much higher level of security for the sacrifice of very little freedom. I'd buy it.

Meanwhile, perhaps Frontline could do a 20th Century history on relations between the West and the Islamic world. Try The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong as a starting point.

Chris Roberts
deptford, nj


Dear FRONTLINE,

Great documentary, but people's level of paranoia amazes me. Some people are just waiting for these oppurtunities to vent their xenophobic feelings and to stop the immigrants from "taking over" their countries, not realizing that immigrant have contributed greatly to both the Canadian and the American societies.

A police state is not an open and free society. So please dont use this opportunity to go after Middle Eastern immigrants. Contrary to the popular opinion, it is not by any means "easy" for a Middle Eastern to come here. Despite being an areligious US citizen, I have been searched and questioned many times during my international trips.

Rush Faghieh
ontario, ca

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