Terrorism threat becomes reality for Canadians as cops allege homegrown plot
Sunday, June 04, 2006
TORONTO (CP) - The lingering threat of global terrorism became a concrete reality for Canadians on Saturday following allegations that 17 people plotted an imminent attack with three times the explosive material used in the devastating Oklahoma City bombing.
A bag of ammonium nitrate was displayed by police as they revealed that an "inspired by al-Qaida" group of mostly Canadian citizens had amassed three tonnes of the fertilizer - commonplace in backyard gardens but also used in large quantities to make explosives for deadly ends.
"It was their intent to use it for a terrorist attack," RCMP assistant commissioner Mike McDonell said of the homegrown plot to target unspecified institutions throughout southern Ontario.
"If I can put this in context for you, the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people was completed with only one tonne of ammonium nitrate."
"This group posed a real and serious threat," he added. "It had the capacity and intent to carry out these acts."
Family members wept as 15 of the 17 accused, five of whom were youths at the time of the alleged crimes and cannot be named, were escorted into a Brampton courtroom in small groups, handcuffed and shackled at the feet.
One woman broke down, saying her son was yet to appear but that she was upset at the sight of his friends in custody.
Most of the group, remanded into custody until all 17 make their next court appearance Tuesday, wore street clothes although some appeared in white jump suits. The majority sported the traditional Muslim male beard.
Tactical unit officers armed with M16 submachine-guns guarded the entrance to the courtroom while similarly armed officers checked credentials outside the building, employing bomb sniffing dogs in their work.
Alvin Chand, brother of Toronto suspect Steven Vikash Chand, scoffed at the charges outside the courthouse as several officers held surveillance positions on surrounding rooftops and a helicopter circled.
"He's not a terrorist, come on, he's a Canadian citizen," Chand said of his brother. "The people that were arrested are good people. They go to the mosque. They go to school, go to college."
Aly Hindy, an imam at the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in east-end Toronto, said the centre's mosque had been monitored by security agencies for years. He said Muslims were once again being falsely accused.
"It's not terrorism. It could be some criminal activity with a few guys, that's all," said Hindy.
"We are the ones always accused."
While only two of the accused had their charges read out to them, Justice of the Peace John Farnum told the court that "the charges as read are virtually the same, so they will apply to all parties."
The charges allege that the men knowingly participated in a terrorist group and either received of provided terrorist training in Toronto, nearby Mississauga, Fort Erie - a border town across from Buffalo, N.Y. - and Ramara Township, located on the shores of Lake Simcoe in central Ontario's cottage county.
Police refused to say what the terror suspects considered targets, although officials ruled out the Toronto Transit Commission - a massive public transit system that includes buses, subways and streetcars.
Speaking to military recruits and their families at a ceremony in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the foiled plot and arrests showed Canada's security and intelligence measures worked "today."
"We will continue to support (law enforcement officials) by strengthening our laws, our policies and the resources dedicated to the fight against terrorism here and around the world," Harper said.
Luc Portelance of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spy agency, said the suspects were all "residents of Canada."
"For various reasons, they appear to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaida," Portelance said, although officials stressed there's no direct link between those charged and the terrorist network.
John Thompson, a security specialist with the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think-tank, said that kind of thinking is indicative of the "jihad generation."
"They're trying to pick up the kids, get them all excited about the jihad," said Thompson.
"We knew it was coming and also that there's probably more cells out there that haven't been busted up yet."
The dramatic events raised the chilling prospect of a terrorist assault on Canadian soil - which authorities have feared since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.
"As (these) arrests demonstrate, Canada is not immune from this ideology," said Portelance.
The sensational arrests also caught the attention of U.S. media outlets and government officials, the latter of which contacted Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day on Saturday.
"We are in daily co-ordination and dialogue with our Canadian counterparts," said Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the U.S. Homeland Security Department.
Still, the U.S. had no direct involvement in the case and would not call for any elevated security measures, Knocke added.
The suspects were arrested Friday night in a massive sweep in co-operation with an Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, or INSET - made up of members of the RCMP, federal agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provincial and municipal police services, and CSIS.
The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a release condemning terrorism "in all its forms" but also reminded that the accused are presumed innocent.
The father of accused Shareef Abdelhaleen, a 30-year-old computer programmer from nearby Mississauga, said the charges made no sense.
"I am shocked," said the Egyptian immigrant who came to Canada with his son 20 years ago and is an engineer on contract with Atomic Energy of Canada.
"It's crazy. It has no meaning whatsoever."
The senior Abdelhaleen also confirmed that he posted bail for Mohammad Mahjoub who is currently in Kingston, Ont., on a national security certificate.
Reaction to a series of arrests that security officials Ontario say thwarted terrorism attacks on unspecified targets in Ontario:
"This group posed a real and serious threat. It had the capacity and intent to carry out these (terrorism) acts." - RCMP Asst. Commissioner Mike McDonell.
"This operation in no way reflects negatively on any specific community or ethnocultural group in Canada. Terrorism is a dangerous ideology, and a global phenomenon. As yesterday's arrests demonstrate, Canada is not immune from this ideology." - CSIS spokesman Luc Portelance.
"These people are absolutely top-shelf investigators. You will not find better investigators on the planet." - Security consultant Chris Mathers, a former RCMP officer.
"It seems to suggest an almost rabid dedication to undertake something serious, whether as a major catastrophic explosion or a series of devastating assaults." - David Harris, a former CSIS official now a senior fellow with the Canadian Coalition for Democracies.
"The FBI is aware of the ongoing law enforcement activity in Canada. There is preliminary indication that some of the Canadian subjects may have had limited contact with the two people recently arrested from Georgia. As always, we will work with our international partners to review any intelligence gathered and will conduct any appropriate investigation. There is no imminent threat to the U.S. from these current law enforcement operations." - FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko.
"As at other times in our history, we are a target because of who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity and our values. Values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law; the values that make Canada great; values that Canadians cherish; values that citizens like you are willing to defend. I'd like to commend the work of the RCMP, CSIS and local police authorities in conducting this operation." - Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"I think we can take a lot of reassurance from the fact (police) work uncovered the actions as they were ongoing but knew exactly when to step in to prevent any serious harm from occurring." - Toronto Mayor David Miller.
"The idea that people would be planning a bombing in our country is simply shocking. And I'm simply thrilled that it looks at though there was a successful co-ordinated effort by all of our security personnel to put a stop to it before it could happen." - Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton.
"We would like to commend the RCMP for pre-empting this action by apprehending the suspects, but we hope that those accused will be tried with due process and with full guarantees that their constitutional rights will be protected." - Niaz Salimi, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
A list of the adults arrested and charged with offences under the Criminal Code of Canada. Five youths, who cannot be named, were also charged:
1. Fahim Ahmad, 21, Toronto;
2. Zakaria Amara, 20, Mississauga, Ont.;
3. Asad Ansari, 21, Mississauga;
4. Shareef Abdelhaleen, 30, Mississauga;
5. Qayyum Abdul Jamal, 43, Mississauga;
6. Mohammed Dirie, 22, Kingston, Ont.;
7. Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24, Kingston;
8. Jahmaal James, 23, Toronto;
9. Amin Mohamed Durrani, 19, Toronto;
10. Steven Vikash Chand alias Abdul Shakur, 25, Toronto;
11. Ahmad Mustafa Ghany, 21, Mississauga;
12. Saad Khalid, 19, of Eclipse Avenue, Mississauga.
OTTAWA (CP) - Statement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding terrorism-related arrests of 12 men and five youths, all from Ontario:
"This morning, Canadians awoke to the news that our law enforcement and national security agencies have arrested 17 individuals for terrorism related offences.
"These individuals were allegedly intent on committing acts of terrorism against their own country and their own people.
"As we have said on many occasions, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism. Through the work and co-operation of the RCMP, CSIS, local law enforcement and Toronto's Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), acts of violence by extremist groups may have been prevented.
"Today, Canada's security and intelligence measures worked. Canada's new government will pursue its efforts to ensure the national security of all Canadians."
Later, Harper spoke in English to military recruits and their families at the Canadian War Museum:
"Today, Canadians have learned that the RCMP and Toronto-area police with the help of CSIS and our intelligence community have arrested 17 individuals for terrorism offences under the Criminal Code. Their target - their alleged target - was Canada: Canadian institutions, the Canadian economy, the Canadian people.
"As at other times in our history, we are a target because of who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity and our values. Values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law; the values that make Canada great; values that Canadians cherish; values that citizens like you are willing to defend.
"I'd like to commend the work of the RCMP, CSIS and local police authorities in conducting this operation. We will continue to support them by strengthening our laws, our policies and the resources dedicated to the fight against terrorism here and around the world.
"Today, Canada's security and intelligence measures worked. Canada's new government will continue its efforts to ensure the national security of all Canadians. And you in the Canadian Forces, working with our police and intelligence service in Canada and Afghanistan and around the world will help us do just that."
© The Canadian Press 2006
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