Trail of a Terrorist

lax cirlced on a map
What are the lessons you draw from the story of Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressam's millennium plot?
the millenium plot
canada: safe haven?
fake passports


As a Canadian living in the United States, I was naturally drawn to "Trail of a Terrorist", as it involved two countries of which I am a part. Admittedly, Canadian immigration policy did not bode well in the public eye, but Canada will learn from these mistakes.

In the past, I have always found your documentary style to be fair and thorough. Although this show was thorough, you failed to emphasize that Americans control their own border. Canada is not responsible for those who enter the United States. Yes, there may be terrorist cells residing in Canada, but there are also many in Belgium, Germany, France, and all over the world. To focus your attention on Canada, and not Mexico (where many terrorist fled as I recall), nor on the rest of the world, was unfair. Overall, it appeared that the United States was seeking to blame Canada for its own immigration problems. This only creates tensions with your closest ally, and serves to create hostility against those who work here, participate in this great country, and help to make it great. The United States, like Canada, is a country of immigrants, lest we forget.

We trade together, we each allow citizens across our borders to work and to play, and we fight together. We also respect each other's rights in controlling their respective borders.

All are learning about this global problem. To point the camera lense elsewhere, when the United States is the focus of so much concern to these cells, is selective at best.

Hannah Scott
memphis, tn


I have been a true fan of your show for years as it is the only show on TV that offers a balanced side of the issues and lets the viewer decide. Congratulations for figuring out that we are smart enough to make up our own minds and we do not need to be spoon fed our opinions.

As a Canadian I found your show to be disturbing. I have known for years that our immigration laws were lax. Many people have told me how easy it is to get in and stay in Canada. That is our choice and we must live with the consequenses.

However, until now I did not realize there were consequences that reached beyond us. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the US. Our values have caused your country a great loss. The US and Canada share a long undefended border because we trust each other. I fear that your trust has been misplaced. We have abused and been abused by our trusting relationship. The US tries hard to be a land of the free by ensuring its new entrants will not harm its citizens. But you have left the back door open and we have opened it.

Canada I fear will do little to stem the tide of refugees as many former refugees hold positions of power. This is our choice. I feel that the US should make a choice. You should restrict and control your border more closely. A security check instead of a drivers license should be the ticket to cross. This will hurt our and your economy but that is the choice that must be made and now we must deal with the consequences. You are a nation under attack, please defend yourselves accodingly, let the rest of the world deal with your actions of self defence.

Francis Kopke
toronto, ontario


What frightens me the most as a Canadian is that our own government takes passport forgery and security so lightly. When terrorists use Canadian passports they put every Canadian traveler at risk. Our Canadian passports have always been a symbol of our country, a country that stands for freedom and peace. In the past a Canadian passport has assured the carrier entry into countries that not even Americans are free to travel.

If foreign countries come to mistrust the validity of our documentation, mistrust those who carry the Canadian passport then all of us in this great country will suffer. We will suffer a blow to our image around the world and a blow to our ability to travel in safety around the world. I am proud to carry a Canadian passport and I wish to continue to carry it with pride.

Dave Lamb
guelph, ontario


Thank you for your excellent-thought provoking programming. I have yet to come across one of your programs that I was not totally enthralled with.

These issues that were covered by your program Trail of a Terrorist are some that many Americans would never take the time to learn on their own. Along with the rest of the country I am feeling a huge amount of fear and anger now. However how this fear and anger is being displaced is what also gives me even more of these terrible feelings. A very good example of this was given by Jim Ellis of Manhattan Illinois. This same distrust of everyone, especially with immigrants, really takes away from the amount I sleep at night. Do people like him forget what the United States is, or what its foundation was built upon?

Its my opinion that people like Mr. Ellis learn very little from anything other than ignorance. If all that he has learned from your program was that the US should close its borders, and that he thinks this would end terrorism on US soil, then did he see the same program that I did? I just would like to ask Mr. Ellis some questions- What did you learn from the wrongful internment of Japanese Americans during the last World War? Are all Christians to be blamed for the actions of the KKK, as they claim to be a Christian brotherhood? Closing the borders to thousands for what only a few are responsible for is definitely not the solution.

Matt U.
salt lake city, utah


I was quite surprised that Canada had such lax laws that would allow an immigrant to commit crimes, not go to jail, & actually collect welfare at $500 a month. Also, very disappointed in this country that allows these people to cross the border freely.

I am a big fan of Frontline & watch it every week. They tell the story like it is & allow one to make up one's own mind as to the integrity of the documentary.

chicago, il


Watching the show, I kept wondering if the border guard at Port Angeles would be singled out for her heroism. She truly isa hero--by looking under the spare tire cover she saved god knows how many lives at the LA airport. Our country is indebted to her, I hope there is some compensation for her diligence.

Jeff Miller
seattle, wa


Until this excellent story, I understood that only the Mossad were expert in the manufacture of fake passports and documents.

It is somewhat reassuring to know that we were able to apprehend this Millennium bomber - and to know that it takes cooperation among nations to battle terrorism in today's world.

st. louis, missouri


The guy who produced this documentary did great effort in collecting data about ressam.I guess he had only to put it together(not big deal)

...I am algerian like ressam , but I do not support terrorirm or any idea that support terrorirsm ...the only thing that frustrated me is the way you presented your documentary..I dont understand the message behind your's like you want to say we don't want arabs and muslims in this country...because the whole documentary was about a plot that was going to happen. you talked to much about this story because the target was USA. but if the target was another country (algeria for example ) you'll say forget about algeria 200,000 people died already because of acts of terrorism...done by guy like ressam,and those acts were financed from people living in countries like canada , england,, body talked about that for some reason or maybe algerian are not humans...

hamid sss
vancouver, bc


I am a Canadian-born and educated immigrant to the U.S. since 1962, and an American citizen for many years. Before my family and I (four total at the time)emigrated from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, my wife and I had two interviews with American INS representatives, in Vancouver, following our original applications to emigrate. One interview was of a political nature. They wanted to be certain that we were not of the Communist persuasion and that we did not subscribe to the overthrow of a government by violent means. The other interview was more of a personal nature emphasising as I remember that we would be good citizens and not become wards of the state. I know that they did a background check on us to verify the information that we had provided. That was 39 years ago! And, at that time Canadians for the most part were very welcome in the U.S., especially engineers with some aircraft design experience. But the point is how thoroughly we were checked out way back then in 1962.

I find this Ahmed Ressam story amazing. It's preposterous that the Canadian authorities and system has been so lax in the circumstances under which they allow foreign persons to enter Canada as potential immigrants, or even just to work for a while. I realize that it has been relatively easy for Canadians and Americans to go back and forth across the border. We have been friendly neighbors for almost 200 years and we are all - those of us that are born and bred in the U.S. or Canada - North Americans.

The events of September 11th past should bring home to Canada that this great friendliness we share has to be protected from those persons who would destroy it. In times like these we have to quarantine some of our democratic "ideals" because these are not ideal times. We must be more vigilant, every day and night, as to whom we now let into our two countries. And if this means some inconvenience to our citizens for a while, then so be it.

I think Canada should amend its regulations and laws, if only temporarily until this situation is finally resolved internationally, and crack down hard on persons entering Canada with suspicious credentials. It is too bad that the bad guys now are primarily Muslims or at least followers of Islam and that persons such as Osama bin Laden and his ilk are trying to make this a religious war against the U.S. and the west. But, in fact, this is true, regardless of our official declarations to the contrary. Bin Laden and his supporters and followers are making it thus. It is not as though this hasn't happened in the past - ever since the days of Mohamed.

The ultimate lesson here is that religions of the world have been a root cause of wars since time began. But very few westerners want to believe, or admit, this fact of history.

Donald B. Olmsted
albertville (minneapolis), mn

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Canada is, in fact, in the process of instituting reforms to immigration and other policies. We have provided a summary of the proposed changes on this web site.


Fortunately, I was born and raised in America and honestly have no idea what the oppression is like in places ending in -stan, but I hope that many of these terrorists cells can be infiltrated, while protecting the civil liberties we have always enjoyed, and with due process, permanently force these unwanted terrorists from our country.

san diego, ca


I now understand that the immigration laws in Canada, as well as the U.S. need to be changed. There is what may be called an "open door" policy in both countries which in this age of hatred which must be addressed and addressed quickly.

I find it completely incomprehensible how cold-blooded the terrorists seem to be. I wonder if they've ever considered how they would feel if the tables were turned and their friends and family were targeted.

fond du lac, wi


Congratulations on another phenomenal piece of work.

How can we get this to the American public. You must know that most of "us", do not and will not watch anything of moment. This comes from being an educator and tying to interest "college" students in the future of "their" country.

This documentary must be shown in every high school in this country. How can I help bring this about. Their parents are not telling them.

The future of this country is at stake...if we have not waited too, long.

Gerald Kane
philadelphia, pa


That was one of the best documentaries I've ever seen (10/25). Kudos, it was jaw-dropping and bone chilling. With that kind of insight into the Afghan activities why have we waited so long to clean them out? We are nuts to have sat on our hands for so long waiting to get hit when we knew clearly what they were up to.

Steve Frater
sarasota, florida


I have learned that no one can be trusted! No matter their background. I feel that we (the United States) should close our borders indefinately until we finish this war on terrorism. I feel by doing so that we can help our case and eliminate any possibility of more terrorism on our country. With the assistance of other countries, hopefully, terrorism will be eliminated completely worldwide.

Jim Ellis
manhattan, illinois


First of all let's remember if you're crossing the border into the States it's the American Border guards who checks your entry not the Candians. Granted are system is poor and needs to be changed to better suit this new terror. But lets also remember all the drugs, guns and other nasties that crosses both our borders daily.

Micheal Maynard
hamiltion, ontario, canada


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