In 2015, Ali Omar Ader’s future seemed promising. He was about to sign a publishing contract that he believed would make him a millionaire.
He had big plans to leave his war-torn home country of Somalia to seek asylum in Canada, and to lift his family out of poverty. But it took just a few days from the moment he landed in Canada for it all to come crashing down.
He’d find out the book deal and the new life that he’d been dreaming of was all a lie, part of a grand plan designed by Canada’s federal police (RCMP) to lure him to Ottawa and prosecute him for a crime he allegedly committed in Somalia: the kidnapping of Canadian freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout.
Today, Ader is facing life in prison if he’s convicted in a complicated international crime saga stretching from the outskirts of Mogadishu, to a luxury hotel on the island of Mauritius and finally on to Ottawa.
His supposed book agent, who he considered a “brother” and “best friend,” was actually an undercover cop, coordinating an operation to take down one of the men responsible for holding Lindhout hostage for 15 months. Ader was the operation’s sole target and the 40-year-old’s fate is now being considered by an Ontario superior court judge, following a 10-day month trial and five-year investigation.
The RCMP’s tactics to nail Ader were based on what his defence lawyer has characterized as a “Mr. Big” investigation, designed to elicit confessions from suspects in cold cases. Police entice a suspect to join a fictitious criminal organization by gaining their trust.
To get in the door with supposed underworld kingpins, police create a scenario where the suspect is obliged to confess to serious crimes. By building a “Mr. Big” persona around its undercover agent, who Ader believed was a publisher, police were able to lure him to Canada, where he could be prosecuted for crimes in Somalia.
This is how the international sting went down, according to trial testimony, transcripts of intercepted phone calls, and court documents.
Amanda Lindhout, a rookie freelance reporter from Red Deer, Alta, was kidnapped, along with Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan, near the Somali capital Mogadishu in August 2008. She was working for Iran’s Press TV and had been in Somalia for less than five days when she was taken.
As her mother desperately tried to come up with $600,000 demanded by the kidnappers, Lindhout was subjected to 460 days of torture, including beatings, starvation, and gang rape. The RCMP says Ader was the kidnappers’ head negotiator, translating during phone calls between the kidnappers and Lindhout’s mother and playing a leadership role in coordinating the crime.
Lindhout’s book about the ordeal has been a bestseller since it was published in 2013 and will be turned into a movie. Meanwhile, for his involvement, Ader allegedly received $10,000 from the ransom paid to the kidnappers by Lindhout’s family to secure her release. To him, that wasn’t enough.
About two months after Lindhout returned home to Canada in 2010, her mother Lorinda Stewart received an unexpected voicemail. It was Ader, seeking to get in touch with her daughter. He and Stewart had spoken extensively during Lindhout’s captivity.
But it wasn’t Lorinda Stewart who returned his call six months later, but a man claiming to be a representative of the family. In court documents, the undercover RCMP officer is called AK, although that isn’t his real name. AK spent five years befriending Ader, gathering information as part of an operation known as Project Slype. Those years of investigative work came to a head in an Ottawa courtroom in October during an emotional legal battle. The judge’s ruling isn’t expected until 2018.
In his closing arguments, prosecutor Croft Michaelson accused Ader of spinning a “tissue of lies” after he testified in court that he was himself being held hostage by Lindhout’s kidnappers, arguing that it made no sense to confess to something he didn’t do on two separate occasions to undercover officers.
“There was nothing to be gained by exaggerating his involvement in the hostage-taking,” said Michaelson.
A couple of weeks ago in an Ottawa courtroom, Ader sat just metres away from Lindhout as she testified against him. To her, he was known as “Adam” and “the commander.” Ader said he’d received instructions from Allah to demand a ransom for Lindhout and Brennan, Lindhout said in court, according to The Canadian Press. Ader also told Lindhout he wanted to marry her.
“Basically they saw me as a piece of property that they owned,” said Lindhout, who said she’d been beaten and sexually assaulted during her time in captivity, and kept in grimy conditions, including one place where ‘rats were crawling all over [her body].” Ader said he had no idea that Lindhout had been raped or beaten, and that he only had contact with the hostages for the first three months of their captivity.
In his first call with AK in 2010, Ader said he had letters written by Lindhout that he wanted to sell back to her, and subsequently sent over samples. Ader wrote an email to AK two months later bragging that “one day he expected to be a millionaire because he was writing a book” about the history of Somalia called ‘A Slow Genocide,’ according to court documents. AK sensed an opportunity. He claimed he had contacts in the publishing industry and offered to make some calls.
And so it began. For months, AK feigned interest in Lindhout’s letters, as well as the book, before telling Ader that the family didn’t have much money. The book became the focus of their conversations. Ader gradually become less interested in selling the letters, and eventually emailed over some scanned copies of what Lindhout wrote when in captivity, in one of the dozen or so different places she was held.
In December 2010, AK told Ader that ‘“there was a lot of money to be made publishing a book,” court documents said. Two days later, Ader revealed his real name, and sent over copies of his passport and university degree — the alleged kidnapper wanted to go to grad school to study international relations. AK helped him research masters programs at Canadian universities, and the two began discussing the possibility of Ader seeking asylum in Canada.
As for the book, he told Ader, the publisher had given him positive feedback. The following year, AK pitched himself to Ader as his book agent, boasting about the successes of Intercon Communications, his made up consulting firm, and offered him a discount on services.
Over the following months, Ader worked on his book, sending AK copies of outlines and chapters as the writing progressed. At AK’s suggestion, they met for the first time in May 2013 at a lavish Hilton on the island of Mauritius, so he could officially sign him as a client. Ader had no idea it was the RCMP who had arranged his flight from Somalia, that they’d made arrangements with local police to make sure he was allowed into Mauritius, or that it was one of their officers he was speaking with when he started freely talking about his involvement in Lindhout’s kidnapping.
In court this spring, AK recalled meeting Ader at the hotel.
“He was smiling and we hugged when we met,” AK told the court. “He was quite happy to see me.”
Ader told Khan he’d been approached to work as a translator and negotiator a few hours after Lindhout was kidnapped.
“He told me he became the group’s brains, and those were his words,” AK said. At the same meeting, during which he signed a contract for AK to act as his worldwide book agent, Ader admitted to sending a proof of life video of Lindhout to Al Jazeera. Because it’s the against the law in Mauritius, the RCMP couldn’t record the conversation.
Two years passed following the hotel meeting. In that time, AK told Ader he’d suffered a heart attack, and that everything would have to be put on hold while he got better—in reality, however, the RCMP needed to figure out the logistics of bringing Ader into the country.
In June of 2015, AK invited Ader to come to Canada and meet with a publisher who he said was interested in his book — he’d arrange his travels, along with a member of his fake staff. As Ader got ready for the trip, he started following Canadian tourism accounts on Twitter. When he landed a few days later, AK’s assistant — another undercover RCMP officer, escorted the alleged kidnapper turned aspiring author to his hotel room.
After an evening of preparation, Ader and AK got ready to meet with an another undercover cop, who took on the role of a Vancouver publisher named “Chris,” who ran fake firm called Catalina Publishing.
“Are you ready to impress the publisher?” AK asked Ali just before Chris entered the hotel boardroom, in a video of the meeting played in court. “This is a big deal. It has taken five years to get to this point.”
“This is my star, Ali,” AK told the fake publishing executive when he walked in, introducing him to a smiling Ader, sporting a suit.
Over the next two hours, Chris walked Ader through the details of the publishing agreement that was worth $234,000, and covered the possibility of future books and a documentary about the kidnapping.
Crucially, the contract also included a full disclosure clause, requiring Ader to divulge anything that could generate negative publicity or legal liability for him or the publisher.
“This is a deal worth over a million dollars in total, ok?” AK told Ader, explaining that he had to be able to protect his company. “So uh… at this point if you’d like to disclose to Chris your total involvement in that, then at least he will be armed and ready to protect you or protect his company.”
“They needed to know about the ‘Amanda incident,’ AK told Ader.
Yes, Ader responded, before launching into an explanation of how he was at tea in Somalia when he got a phone call from a man with an offer. A few minutes later that man arrived and told him someone had captured a foreigner and needed a translator. For a share of the ransom, Ader agreed. He then disclosed a number of “holdback details” — that he’d used the alias “Adam,” during the negotiations and that he only had contact with the hostages for the first three months they were held. He had no idea Lindhout was tortured or raped, he said. The $10,000 he received for his work as a negotiator wasn’t enough and “he was expecting more,” Ader told the RCMP agents posing as publishers.
Ader signed the contract and left the room. In the hallway, he was met by an RCMP officer, who arrested him. He was charged with kidnapping under extraterritorial provisions of the Criminal Code.
“He was one of the main negotiators, ” Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters in June 2015, after Ader’s arrest. “This investigation posed a number of significant challenges as it was carried out in an extremely high-risk environment, in a country plagued with political instability.”
As the lone defence witness in his case, Ader now claims he didn’t act voluntarily but was pressured at gunpoint to work as a translator and then held hostage himself. Ader told the court he was grabbed off the street while on break from work and held for several months, receiving instructions on what to say during calls with Stewart. He said he was beaten and attempted to escape, but surrendered after hostage takers threatened his family. He claimed he’d exaggerated the story to make his book sound more salacious and that he wasn’t paid by the kidnappers, forcing his own attorney to concede that parts of Ader’s story contradicted themselves.
Ader’s entire defence has been dismissed by the Crown as flagrant lies. And Ader admitted under cross examination that he wasn’t much of a prisoner — he was able to leave the apartment to eat at restaurants, work as a travel agent, and bring his family to live with him.
“They always listen to me … sometimes I yell at them, and tell them to give me time to negotiate and reach an agreement,” Ader said during a call played in court with a Somali man who helped the Lindhout family communicate with the kidnappers. “Earlier tonight I called and screamed at them. They have told me I have no right to scream when I don’t have ransom money or an arrangement.”