March 17, 2017 / 10:28 PM / 5 months ago

Canada apologizes to men tortured in Syria, agrees settlement

FILE PHOTO -- Abdullah Almalki (C), with Muayyed Nureddin (L) and Ahmad El Maati, speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 12, 2007.Chris Wattie/File Photo

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Friday formally apologized to three Canadian men of Arab descent who said they had been tortured in Syria and blamed Canadian secret services for their ordeal.

The Liberal government also said it had agreed a cash settlement with Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin, who had pressed their case for a decade.

All three men were arrested separately when entering Syria between 2001 and 2003. They say they were tortured and interrogated, and some of the questions they were asked were based on information that could only have come from Canada.

In a statement, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland apologized to the three "for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to their detention and mistreatment abroad and any resulting harm".

Goodale spokesman Dan Brien declined to answer how much the men would be paid. The Toronto Star newspaper, which reported in February that a settlement was imminent, said the deal would run into millions of Canadian dollars.

Amnesty International said the settlement and apology would "send a strong message that what was done to them cannot and must not ever be done to others".

Toronto law firm Stockwoods, which represented the men, said in a statement the three men and their families "are pleased that their long legal ordeal is over".

An official inquiry into the case concluded in 2008 that Canadian security services most likely contributed indirectly to the trio's torture.

Ottawa ordered the probe after an earlier inquiry found Canadian Maher Arar had been deported to Syria in 2002 by the United States, and tortured there, after what the inquiry said was false identification of him as an Islamic extremist by Canadian police.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernard Orr

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