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Bomb suspect's brother 'shocked'
Landed immigrant went to Toronto police after his siblings were arrested in Italy

Colin Freeze/Globe and Mail | August 3 2005

Toronto — Hamdi Issac, in custody in Rome accused of mounting a terrorist strike on London, is a "very nice" and "smart" young man who suddenly showed up in Italy after the attack telling his siblings there he was on vacation, according to his Canadian brother.

"He's a good guy," Abdul Issac told The Globe and Mail yesterday during an interview at his public-housing apartment in north Toronto. He added he can't believe that any of his brothers, particularly Hamdi, have any links to terrorist groups. "He's not like that."

Abdul, a 32-year-old father of four who works the graveyard shift cleaning downtown office towers, said he himself is just an ordinary immigrant caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

He's one of six brothers born in Ethiopia, but who fled to live in Italy in the early 1990s. A few years later, Hamdi sought asylum in Britain and Abdul did the same in Canada.

On Monday, Italian police mentioned Abdul by name at a press conference, but didn't say whether he was under investigation as they discussed the arrest of the fugitive Hamdi and two other brothers who harboured him in that country.

"I don't have any connection with al-Qaeda," Abdul said yesterday, wearing blue jeans, running shoes, and a T-shirt that said "Texas, USA." He shrugged frequently when asked about his brother's alleged links to terrorism.

Adbul simply said he was "shocked and scared" to return home from work yesterday and see his name mentioned when he turned on BBC television to check news about his brothers' arrests. After that, he couldn't sleep and became worried about losing his job.

So he talked to leaders of Toronto's 40,000-strong Ethiopian community and decided to present himself to police to see if they wanted to question him. Officers at Toronto's 12 Division told Abdul they would call him if they had any need to speak to him, he said.

Canadian security officials will say only that authorities have been assisting Britain with the bombing investigation and they won't discuss any individuals or evidence.

A web of intrigue has surrounded the Issac family since the July 21 subway-bombing attempts in London. In that round of failed attacks, Hamdi, the youngest of the six brothers, was caught on tape fleeing a London subway station after a bomb failed to detonate on a train.

Abdul said he didn't recognize Hamdi in the security-camera photographs, but realized his brother had been arrested when Italian police circulated his mug shot on the weekend. Police have said they traced Hamdi to Italy through calls on a cellphone.

Remzi and Fati Issac now stand accused of misusing documents and harbouring their terror-suspect brother. Their Canadian brother insists they were unaware Hamdi was a fugitive.

"He didn't tell them. He came to them like he was on a visit," Abdul said. "He came like he was on vacation."

Since the arrests, he has spoken to his other brothers, who have told him that their father -- still in Ethiopia -- fainted and nearly had a heart attack after learning of the arrests.

While the Issac brothers lived together for years in Italy, he said that he and Hamdi now talk only infrequently, around the Muslim holidays of Eid and Ramadan. During those calls, Hamdi would dispense all kinds of advice and also ask his big brother if he had been saying his prayers.

Asked whether Hamdi had any links to Osama bin Laden, Abdul replied: "How do you contact bin Laden?" before asking rhetorically, "Do you have contact with George Bush?"

Police and lawyers have told reporters that Hamdi, who used the name Osman Hussain in Britain, justified his bombing attempt as a protest against British involvement in the war in Iraq. Abdul said he had "no idea" about his brother's views on the U.S.-led invasion.

He stared back blankly when asked if his brother had been associating with radicals in Britain, such as firebrand preachers Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri. He didn't seem to recognize those names. As for himself, he said he prays in a variety of mosques around the Toronto area, like many East Africans do.

At the family's apartment near Lawrence Avenue and Black Creek Drive, his wife listened in, periodically telling their children -- aged 10, 5, 3 and eight months -- to be quieter.

"We have small kids," she said, explaining she didn't want them to be affected by any news coverage. Her husband refused to be photographed, saying he didn't want to lose his job.

Italian counterterrorism officials said that Hamdi claimed to be a Somali to gain asylum in Britain, but there have never been allegations that Abdul misrepresented himself.

He and his wife simply say they are now landed immigrants and are looking forward to raising their kids peacefully in Canada.

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