He had worked in Pakistan from 1990-1994 for a charity that assisted refugees. After immigrating to Canada in 1995, Harkat applied for refugee status and for a Permanent Resident card. He worked as a gas station attendant and a deliveryman for Pizza Pizza during his first seven years in Canada. He was released on May 23, 2006 under house arrest, while fighting deportation.
Mohamed Harkat was born in Taguine, Algeria to El-Ait, and is one of seven sons. His father was born in Algeria, but worked both there and in France in the construction business.
As a student at the University of Oran, Harkat joined the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) in 1989, when it was still a legitimate political movement. He offered them the use of a family-owned house in Zmalet El Emir Abdelkader as a registered district office. Harkat was excused from Algerian military service because he broke his left leg as a child and it never properly healed.
In March 1990, the Algerian government stormed the house and arrested the FIS members within. Harkat was not present, and was warned by his uncle that security forces were seeking him.
Harkat departed in April 1990 for a trip to Saudi Arabia using a Hajj passport. From there he travelled to Pakistan, where the Muslim World League employed him and sent him to Peshawar in May 1990, to help distribute relief packages and organise aid programs. For the next four years, Harkat worked and lived out of a Babbi warehouse. He picked up shipments of food and relief supplies for the refugee camps in the city from the Peshawar airport and train station, earning $300–500 monthly.
CSIS has alleged that during this time he also worked for Human Concern International. They suggest that this meant he was a formal colleague of Ahmed Khadr, and that he may have run a guest house for foreign mujahideen traveling to participate in the Afghan civil war.
In June 1994 Harkat lost his job. He lived off his $18,000 in savings for the next year. He has made contradictory statements suggesting he either deposited $12,000 of his earnings in a bank through his friend Haji Wazir, or that he never used a bank and kept all his money with him. CSIS contends that Pacha Wazir, to whom they believe Harkat is referring, is an Emirati citizen known to have connections to al-Qaeda.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) alleges that Harkat and "Mohammad Adnani" were the same person, and that during this time, he joined the more militant Groupe Islamique Armé wing of FIS. They allege he eventually aligned with Gama`at Islamiyya. CSIS will not provide a source for this claim, arguing that the information came from "open sources".
In September 1995, Harkat paid $5000 for airfare to travel from Pakistan to Malaysia, from where he hoped to catch a direct flight to Canada. In Kuala Lampur, he purchased a forged Saudi passport in the name of Mohammed M. Mohammed S. Al Qahtani for $1200 from a stranger named Abu Abdallah Pakistani, to carry in addition to his legitimate Algerian passport. Saudi passports did not require entry visas to visit Canada.
Holding about $1000, Harkat flew from Malaysia to Toronto via the United Kingdom on October 6, 1995. He contacted Taher, a colleague he had met in 1994 in Peshawar then living in Ottawa. He arranged to meet him at the Ottawa bus station, since he said he had been told that it was best to start a refugee claim from the city. Taher met him at the bus terminal and took him to the mosque, where he was introduced to Abrihim, a convert to Islam who lived beside the mosque. He allowed Harkat to live with him for a week or two.
Harkat said that he would be persecuted by the Algerian government if he returned, due to his past membership in the FIS. His claim was accepted on February 24, 1997. In March, he applied for Permanent Resident status.
While attending prayers at the Ottawa Mosque on Northwestern Avenue, he met Mohamed el-Barseigy, who was looking for someone to share his apartment. Accepting el-Barseigy's offer of a drive back to Toronto, Harkat was introduced to Ahmed Khadr, who was also in the van. Harkat has said that Khadr was silent during most of the trip, and his only advice to Harkat was "tell the truth to immigration authorities." (A Federal Court justice commented that this was "inherently implausible and incredible".) They never met again after the 5-hour drive.
Harkat was also in contact with Fahad al-Shehri, who was later deported from the country. In 1996, after el-Barseigy moved to a new home, Harkat moved to 391 Nelson Street, Apartment 1. At the end of the year, he enrolled in English courses at the Ottawa Technical High School.
On October 4, 1997, he was interviewed by CSIS, and was accused of using the alias "Abu Muslima", which he denied. In 2004, he recanted his denial and admitted using the name in Pakistan.
He became addicted to gambling, and lost several thousand dollars - prompting authorities to ask where he'd gotten the money in the first place. He said that a man named Wael, a mutual friend with Harkat's close friend Abdel Mokhtar, had come to Canada with $60,000 to start a business. Liking Harkat, he offered to loan him $10,000 and then an additional $8,000 to open an antique store and a gas station. Harkat also stated that the money was from Mokhtar, rather than Wael. It later came to light that one of the CSIS agents detailed to collect information on Harkat had been Theresa Sullivan, who had been fired in 2002 after she carried on an extramarital affair with one of her informants. Given this behavior, Harkat questioned in court whether information she provided about him to CSIS was reliable.
Harkat married the Canadian citizen Sophie Lamarche.
Harkat was arrested in Ottawa on December 10, 2002 as a threat to national security, after a security certificate was issued on the recommendation of CSIS. Its officers relied upon secret evidence that has not been revealed due to national security concerns.
Public statements indicated that Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded during harsh interrogations by the United States, described a man "similar to" Harkat running a guest house in Pakistan that shuttled mujahideen to Chechnya, although he did not use Harkat's name. This led the United States to accuse Harkat of "assisting terrorists, including the September 11 hijackers".
On March 22, 2005, Federal Court judge Eleanor Dawson ruled that the security certificate binding Harkat was reasonable. On December 30 of that year, a federal court judge dismissed Harkat's application for release. In April 2006, he was moved, along with the other four detainees, to a section at the Millhaven Institution specifically built for those held under security certificates.
On May 23, 2006, Harkat was released on a $100,000 bail by Justice Dawson. The release conditions stipulated that he be in the company of his wife, Sophie Harkat, or mother-in-law, Pierrette Brunette, at all times. Additionally, Harkat was required to wear a tracking bracelet and was prohibited from using electronic means of communication. Any trips outside of his house were to be approved by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) 48 hours in advance. The CBSA were also allowed constant access to his house, were required to approve any visitors to the house, and had two agents accompany him on any outings.
On June 13–14, 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case of Harkat v. Canada on the constitutionality of security certificates. On December 22, Harkat's lawyer, Paul Copeland, announced that Federal Court Chief Justice Allan Lutfy would grant a judicial review of the original deportation order in Federal Court.
The Canada Border Services Agency added six full-time positions for surveillance agents to follow Harkat at all times, at an annual cost of $868,700, as well as purchasing a new $31,000 car for the tailing, and spent $5,000 monthly to have staff monitoring Harkat's tracking bracelet.
On January 29, 2008, CBSA agents entered Harkat's home while he was showering, and placed him under arrest. They cited a breach of bail conditions, since his mother-in-law had not stayed at the house for several days following an argument with her husband. He was released after being questioned about the matter.
On September 24, 2008, judge Simon Noël ruled that CSIS must disclose their "secret" evidence against Harkat, allowing him and his lawyers to view the material. CSIS said this could take up to six months. Six months later, Judge Noël ordered the release conditions be loosened, allowing Harkat to remain home alone without requiring his wife to be present at all times. In May 2009, judge Noël had said that the unwillingness of CSIS to share its material regarding the reliability of an informant who gave evidence against Harkat was "troubling." He ordered them to disclose the confidential files to Harkat's defence lawyers who held security clearance. CSIS claimed to have destroyed all original copies of their evidence, and offered copies to the court and defence lawyers.
In May 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that security certificate process used against Harkat was fair and reasonable. While this theoretically cleared the way for his deportation to Algeria, the risk that he could be tortured if returned prevents the Canada Border Services Agency from removing him from Canada. In March 2016 filmmaker Alexandre Trudeau, the younger brother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asking the Harkat be allowed to stay, causing Erin O'Toole, the Conservative public safety critic and Democracy Watch to demand the Prime Minister recuse himself from any decision regarding Harkat.