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Envoy's call to Iranians in Canada raises fear of terror recruitment

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Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be recruiting operatives in Canada, just an easy border crossing from the U.S., say terror watchdogs. (AP2012)

The prospect of Iran using its embassy in Canada to mobilize Islamic Republic loyalists to attack the U.S. is raising alarm among terrorism experts after an official there issued a call to arms for expatriates to infiltrate the Canadian government and be ready to advance the interests of their homeland.

Details of the Iranian recruitment program came to light in a chilling interview Hamid Mohammadi, the Iranian cultural affairs counselor at the embassy in Ottawa, gave in Farsi to an Iran-based website directed exclusively at Iranians living in Canada. In addition to raising alarms in Canada, Mohammadi's message got the attention of U.S. terror watchdogs, who noted that radicalized Iranians would be just an easy border crossing from the American heartland, since Canadian citizens do not need a visa and typically face just a few questions from U.S. border officials.

Mohammadi said recent immigrants among the estimated 500,000 Iranians in Canada have “preserved their strong attachments and bonds to their homeland,” while second-generation Iranians are already in “influential government positions.” He urged all Iranian-Canadians to “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture” to aspire to “occupy high-level key positions” and said the embassy plans to extend its reach by offering “cultural programs” to Iranian immigrants and their descendants, who can then “be of service to our beloved Iran.”

The Iranian activity comes amid rising tension between the United States and Iran as toughening sanctions over Iran’s nuclear defiance impose additional hardships on the Islamic Republic, which Washington lists as a state sponsor of terrorism. Terrorism experts, noting Iran's recent failed plot to assassinate a Saudi official in the U.S., said Mohammadi's message is a not-so-subtle bid to recruit operatives.

“Definitely there is recruitment – they want Iranians with Canadian passports, Iranians with U.S. passports,” said Steven Emerson, executive director of the authoritative Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism and executive producer of the upcoming documentary “Jihad in America 2: The Grand Deception.”

“Canada is not of the highest rank among the enemies of Iran, and so it is more likely this [cultural program exists] for possible recruitment for use in the United States – anything from intelligence gathering, to being an intermediary in the recruitment of others, or to actually carrying out an attack.”

In recent years, the U.S. has foiled an increasing number of terror-related fund-raising and other activities linked to Iran and its Lebanon-based terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Most brazen was the plot to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel A. Al-Jubeir in Washington last year. It has also expelled security guards attached to Iran’s mission to the UN for spying, typically photographing tourist landmarks and key infrastructure.

“We don’t want these people to have a safe haven in Canada. And yes, the people they recruit can easily get to the United States.”

- Shabnam Assadollahi, an Iranian-Canadian anti-Tehran activist

But Iranian operatives in Canada would be out of the direct reach of U.S. authorities.

Iran’s purported cultural expansion program is also on fertile ground in Canada, where constitutionally protected multiculturalism – established under past Liberal governments – encourages immigrant groups to maintain their national and cultural identities.

“Multiculturalism is killing Canada. I’m sick and tired of political correctness in this country,” said Shabnam Assadollahi, an Iranian-Canadian anti-Tehran activist, who helped translate the Mohammadi interview.

“We don’t want these people to have a safe haven in Canada. And yes, the people they recruit can easily get to the United States.”

In his interview, Mohammadi speaks of Iran’s plan to win the hearts and minds of Iranians living in Canada.

“By 2031, the total immigrant population of Canada will increase by 64 percent, and that the number of Iranians will increase due to birthrate,” Mohammadi tells the website Iranians Residing Abroad.

“So, therefore, we need to put into effect very concentrated cultural programs in order to enhance and nurture the culture in this fast-growing population. It is obvious that this large Iranian population can only be of service to our beloved Iran through these programs and gatherings.”

Canada officially takes a tough line with Iran, annually leading a United Nations censure of its appalling human rights record. It also limits government-to-government contact to just four topics in accordance with Canada’s Controlled Engagement Policy (CEP).

Although part of the CEP bars Iran from opening consulates or cultural centers outside Ottawa, the directive does not appear to be well enforced.

An “education advisory” section of the Iranian Embassy in Canada is the main sponsor of a three-day Iranian Students Convention planned to take place at a meeting center this summer in Cornwall, Ontario, say Iranian-Canadians opposed to the regime in Tehran.

Iranian-published books promoting anti-Semitism and encouraging jihad (holy war) have also been used to target Iranian and other Muslim students for courses in Toronto and Ottawa, these same activists have revealed.

“Iran, with its nuclear weapons development, and thousands volunteering for suicide missions, has an aggressive presence in this very city [Ottawa], variously relying on, and victimizing, its expatriates,” David Harris, director of the international and terrorist intelligence program at Insignis Strategic Research in Ottawa, testified last year before a Canadian Senate social affairs committee.

Despite its platform of being tough on security, Canada’s Conservative government appears hopeful the Iranian Embassy will self-censor when it comes to spreading the word of the Islamic Republic.

“Foreign embassies are allowed to undertake domestic outreach activities in Canada; however, we expect them to do so in accordance with Canadian laws,” said Rick Roth, a spokesman for John Baird, Canada’s minister for foreign affairs.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security referred questions on Iran’s activities in Canada to the State Department, which in turn referred inquiries to the Canadian government.

Any naturalized Iranian-Canadians would be fingerprinted at the border, regardless of whether they had a Canadian passport, said Homayoun Mobasseri, director of the U.S.-based human rights activist group Neda for a Free Iran.

But that would not necessarily apply to Canadian-born descendants of Iranian immigrants, who are also the targets of Tehran’s recruiting efforts. That means this group has the best chance of entering the United States with the same relative ease as any other Canadian.

The Iranian Embassy in Canada did not respond to a request for comment, while the Iranian Mission to the United Nations said only the Ottawa embassy could comment. Iran does not have an embassy in the United States since there are no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Steven Edwards is a freelance journalist based at the United Nations

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