In 1996, Abdurahman Khadr, then 13-year-old terrorist-in-training, stood face to face with his idol: Osama bin Laden. Before long, Khadr would join the ranks of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Afghanistan, fulfilling the calling of his hard-line Islamist family by waging war against the hated Americans. Now, after a stint at Guantanamo Bay prison, Abdurahman will become an American hero—at least if Hollywood has its way.
The June 5 edition of Variety reports that a movie deal is in the works about the 21-year old lapsed-terrorist’s life. Paramount Pictures has even enlisted the Oscar-nominated screenwriter Keir Pearson to turn Abdurahman’s story into a script. The movie will reportedly find a feel-good lesson in Abdurahman’s journey from bin-Laden’s training camp in Afghanistan, through Guantanamo and Bosnia to Toronto, Canada, where Khadr, having allegedly renounced his terrorist ways, now resides with other members of his family.
For his participation in the project, Khadr will be generously rewarded: The National Post, quoted by Daniel Pipes, reports that Abdurahman—the “good son” of the Khadr family—could earn as much as $500,000 when the movie debuts sometime around 2006. Daily Variety, also quoted by Pipes, suggests that the deal may be worth in the "mid- to high-six figures.” The producers hope Johnny Depp will star in the lead. Vincent Newman, president of Vincent Newman Entertainment, who bought the rights, is quoted hailing Khadr’s “a classic black sheep story—a story about the rebel of the family.” Khadr meanwhile has reserved the rights to develop the screenplay. Variety notes that “it appears it will follow the storyline that makes him look best....”
Khadr certainly has his work cut out for him. The tale of a young rebel who never reconciled himself to his family’s extremist ways may set the hearts of Hollywood producers aflutter. But it would be difficult to tell a story more incompatible with the facts of Khadr’s life.
The Khadr family name first became widely known in Canada in 1996, when Abdurahman’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was arrested in Pakistan for his role in bombing the Egyptian embassy. Canada’s then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien personally pressured Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto during face-to-face meetings in Islamabad, and won Ahmed’s release. Egyptian-born Ahmed Said Khadr’s career in terrorism can be dated to the 1980s, when he befriended Osama bin Laden during the jihad against Soviet forces.
When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, Ahmed moved his family from Canada to Afghanistan, where they could be closer to bin-Laden. Abdurahman and Abdulla, the eldest of Khadr’s sons, duly attended an al-Qaeda training camp at Khalden, Afghanistan, receiving a solid grounding in terrorist ideology and weapons training. So intimate were the ties between the Khadr family and bin Laden that in January of 2001—eight months before the 9-11 attacks--the Khadr’s attended the wedding of bin Laden’s son, Mohammed. In 1999, bin Laden had attended the wedding of Abdurahman’s sister Zaynab, an Islamic fundamentalist whose faith in bin Laden’s murderous vision remains unshaken. Little wonder that Abdurahman today describes his family as an “al-Qaeda family.”
The family makes no attempt to hide its sympathy for the terrorist chieftain. In a February 2004, interview, Zaynab and her mother Maha spoke openly about their bin-Laden connections. Bin-Laden, they insisted, loves children and is quite the family man. Zaynab stressed that “it was very important for him to sit with his kids every day at least for two hours in the morning after their morning prayer. They sit and read a book at least. It didn't have to be something religious. He loved poetry very much….” Indeed, they claim bin-Laden, far from a murderer, was the consummate family man: “He loved playing volleyball and loved horse riding. And he'd do it, I mean amongst people he was not Osama bin-Laden. He was just Osama, just a sheikh. And kids played around him. Kids would go shake his hand. He played volleyball with them or just horse race with them. Just, he was just a normal person. And they'd go shooting he'd go with them. If he missed his target they'd laugh at him and stuff like that.”
Abdurahman’s brother, Abdullah, also harbors fond memories of bin-Laden: “He never jokes, very quiet person, very polite,” he told CBC News in March, adding that bin Laden “Can be a saint, something like a saint. I see him as a very peaceful man.”
Abdurahman’s champions in the movie business have been less-than-eager to draw attention to such remarks, clashing as they do with the image of a reconstructed terrorist-gone-good that will underlie the future film. Instead, attention has been fixed on a CBC documentary on the Khadr family that premiered on CBC and PBS Frontline this spring. It features Abdurahman, in full confessional mode, saying: “I admit it that we are an al-Qaeda family. We had connections to al-Qaeda.” Abdurahman also stresses that he disobeyed his father’s directives to become a suicide bomber. “(I am) a person that was raised to become an Al Qaeda, was raised to become a suicide bomber, was raised to become a bad person, and I decided on my own that I do not want to be that,” he has said.
Nor is that the only inconsistency in Abdurahman ostensibly inspiring biography. Following his 2002 capture in Afghanistan, Abdurahman was turned over to U.S. forces. An interrogation yielded that the young jihadist boasted close connections to the top echelons of al-Qaeda leadership. An offer from the CIA followed: a $5,000 initial bonus for his cooperation and an additional monthly stipend of $3,000 to show American investigators the locations of some al-Qaeda members’ former Kabul safe houses. Abdurahman agreed. The story of a chastened militant working with the U.S. in atonement for his past sins was born.
But the story does not withstand serious scrutiny. On July 21, 2003, after a few months of “cooperation” while in US custody, Abdurahman’s CIA handlers sent him to Bosnia. His mission: to seek out al-Qaeda operatives and use their “pipeline” to make his way to Iraq. And that’s when the myth of his “cooperation” began to unravel. In Bosnia the CIA showered him with money but, Abdurahman, finally free of US confinement, decided to get out. “I can't do this anymore,” he explains in the CBC documentary, “So I went [and] I called my grandmother.... When I (later) met [the CIA] I told them I talked to my grandmother last night and she told me that she was going to talk and she was going to say everything. So they said let's see what happens.” Abdurahman’s grandmother, herself sympathetic to al-Qaeda, quickly obtained the assistance of Canadian attorney Rocco Galati and found ready contacts at the Washington Post which obligingly produced a November 26, 2003 article.
Recounting his conversation with his CIA handler, Abdurahman said: “So in the morning the news started coming out and we met again the next night. So he told me yeah, it's out in the Washington Post and in this and that. You need to move out of the house, the apartment you're living in. We're going to move you out today....”
On November 30, 2003, Abdurahman arrived in Toronto after walking away from the CIA and entering the Canadian embassy in Bosnia. The CIA, out-maneuvered by the Khadr family and their media contacts, had to cut its losses. Abdurahman’s escape was the only substantial product of his cooperation. Of the CIA money he said, “…don't think you're doing me a big favor by giving me that money. I'm doing you a big favor by working for you….”
Since then, Abdurahman has focused his energies on undermining U.S. efforts in the war on terror. Beyond complaining about the “unjust” treatment of his “al-Qaeda family”, he has taken to railing against the “harsh” conditions at Guantanamo Bay: “They never told me it would be as harsh as it became....They never told me you're going to be on concrete for 24 hours and if something went wrong, you're going to be on concrete again for 48 hours. They never told me any of that.” Abdurahman also claims that Guantanamo detainees are mostly harmless: “80 percent of people that went to Afghanistan...They've had enough. If you put them back in their countries they won't do anything.” Abdurahman’s appeal on behalf of the prisoners is hardly disinterested. His 18-year-old brother Omar was captured in Afghanistan, July 27, 2002 after allegedly throwing a hand grenade which killed Sergeant 1st Class Christopher J. Speer, a U.S. medic. Omar is now Canada’s only known detainee at Guantanamo.
Does Abdurahman’s family believe he truly abandoned his terrorist habits? Abdurahman’s sister Zaynab, for instance, insists that he never had any intention of cooperating with the CIA: “As long as he didn't really help them. If he did, I'd be really ashamed of him. If he just fooled them, I don't mind it. If he really did something, I'd be ashamed of him.” Abdurahman’s mother Maha agrees: “He used his intelligence and it's okay,” she said. Abdurahman, for his part, has cast doubt on his made-for-T.V. conversion. “I'm my father's son,” he explained in the CBC interview with Terrance McKenna. His father gave up the terrorist’s life only in October, 2003, when a gun battle with the Pakistani military ended it permanently.
Of Sgt. Speer, Zaynab says, “…(Omar) killed an American soldier. Big deal.”
In a recent interview, Abdurahman addressed his father’s death. “To my father and to my mother, this is the ultimate in being an Islamic family because to them, dying all of us in the war against America, you know, is just being the top family because we all died in a way, you know, in fighting against American you know. Can you ask for more than that?”
Well, yes: How about a $500,000 contract to make a Hollywood movie celebrating the new ‘man of the house’ in Canada’s infamous Khadr “al-Qaeda family.”