Ahmad Abou El-Maati (Arabic: أحمد ابوالمعاطي) (born October 1, 1964) is a Canadian citizen who was arrested and detained for two and a half years in Syrian and Egyptian prisons. He had found a Visitor's Map to Ottawa and was travelling to Syria to get married. This evidence, as well as the post-September 11 fear, led him to be considered a suspected terrorist. In 2001 El-Maati was the subject of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation into what appeared to be a terror plot involving his job as a truck driver.
El-Maati was born in Kuwait to Badr El-Maati, an accountant, auditor and business consultant from Egypt, and Samira Al-Shallash, a teacher from Syria. The family moved to Beirut, and both Ahmad and his brother were enrolled in a Catholic school.
He immigrated to Montreal with his father and brother Amr in 1981, when he was 17 years old and took a job in a local factory. The family then moved to Toronto, when his mother and sister arrived.
Ahmad took college courses in electronics, before enrolling at Concordia University for two years where he studied statistics. He worked as a cab driver in London, Ontario and took lessons towards a pilot's license after a friend suggested there was money to make in air taxis between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. He flew a Cessna trainer for five hours, before dropping the program due to his fear of heights. He received his formal Canadian citizenship in 1986.
In 1988, he traveled to fight with the Mujahideen in repelling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but contracted malaria within two weeks of arriving and spent the next four months in a hospital in Peshawar, before returning to Canada. He later worked as a truck driver in Afghanistan, and drove an ambulance and cooked meals for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's army as it fought against the Taliban in Logar. In 1996, Amer came to Afghanistan looking for his brother, just as Hekmatyar's forces were retreating north through Salang tunnel. In November 1997, Ahmad deserted, meeting up with his mother and sister in Iran, while his brother traveled to Pakistan.
Upon moving back to Canada in 1998, he moved in with his father and had trouble finding work. His father's friend Ibrahym Adam offered a job as a mechanic's assistant in Montreal, but suggested he look towards driving long-haul transport vehicles. Ahmad used his salary, as well as a loan from his father, to graduate with his AZ license from a Scarborough driving school. He celebrated by taking the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in March 1999, and returned to take a job with Leger Trucking, driving lettuce from a farm in Salinas, California to Quebec supermarkets and McDonalds restaurants, earning about $750 for the thirty-hour drive. He decided to drive solo, as he could earn triple the money, and was hired by Motion Supply, who assigned him to drive with Highland Transport.
El-Maati was stopped at the Canada–US border on August 16, 2001, where customs officials found a map of Ottawa listing both government and nuclear research facilities, which was later found to be a government-issued visitor's map left by a previous driver.
Following the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, he was interviewed by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent Adrian White who wanted to question him about the map, and his visit to Syria in April.
Claiming frustration with the ongoing police involvement, Ahmad left to Syria in 2001 to complete the marriage ceremonies with his fiancee. The legal marriage papers would enable him to apply for her to enter Canada. He never met her there, and sometime after his arrest her family annulled the marriage.
He was jailed upon his arrival in Syria, was tortured into making a confession, which he later retracted, that he had been a part of a terrorism plot involving two fellow Syrian-Canadians, Maher Arar and Abdullah Almalki, who were then arrested.
In December 2001, CSIS agents Adrian White and Rob Cassolato turned up at the el-Maati home in Toronto, asking Badr to come clean about his sons' locations.
On January 12, 2004, State Security offered to release Ahmad to his family if they would give up the location of Amer. Their mother protested that she didn't know where Amer was, and Ahmad was released the following day.
On September 6, 2005, a front-page article in the Globe and Mail newspaper revealed that the map in question was of the Tunney's Pasture government complex in the west end of Ottawa, Ontario. The map, an old version, showed government buildings including a Health Canada virus lab as well as a nuclear research facility belonging to Atomic Energy of Canada. However, these offices had been relocated prior to El-Maati's detainment at the border. They have since been demolished and transformed into parking lots.
- "The Globe and Mail has learned that the map -- scrawled numbers and all -- was in fact produced and distributed by the Canadian federal government. It is simply a site map, given out to help visitors to Tunney's Pasture, a sprawling complex of government buildings in Ottawa, find their way around."
The Canadian government has ordered a public inquiry into Mr. El-Maati's and two other men who also experienced detention in Syria. On June 18, 2009, the Canadian House of Commons voted in favour of an official apology and compensation to Almalki, el-Maati and Nureddin. As of 2008, Ahmad is unable to work and lives with his mother.
- Pither, Kerry. "Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror", 2008.
- Journalism after September 11
- Layden-Stevenson, Justice. "Hassan Almrei and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Solicitor General for Canada", "Reasons for Order and Order", December 5, 2005
- Freze, Colin. Globe and Mail, Jailed Arab details ties to tortured Canadians, September 11, 2009
- Jeff Sallot, Colin Freeze, It was hyped as a TERRORIST map It was cited by Egyptian TORTURERS It is a VISITOR'S GUIDE to Ottawa, Globe and Mail, Tuesday, September 6, 2005 - mirror (.pdf)
- http://www.iacobucciinquiry.ca/index.htm Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abouz-zElmaati and Muayyed Nureddin
- Toronto Star, Bungling 'terror' cases, June 21, 2009
- The Honourable Frank Iacobucci QC LLD, inquiry commissioner. "Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abouz-zElmaati and Muayyed Nureddin". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
- Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror
- Ahmad El-Maati Biography (PDF)
- El-Maati Chronology (PDF)
- Google Maps satellite photo and map of Tunney's Pasture