Saturday, June 03, 2006
CANADIAN TERROR CELL TAKEN DOWN
Terror suspects appear in court
Globe and Mail Update and Canadian Press
Brampton, Ont. — Members of an alleged homegrown terror cell appeared in a Brampton courtroom Saturday to face chargers they plotted to attack Canadian targets in Southern Ontario.
In a series of raids Friday, police arrested 12 adults and five young offenders. In the process, they seized enough ammonium nitrate fertilizer to build an explosive device three times more devastating than the one used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
"This group presented a real and serious threat. They had the capacity and intent to carry out a terrorist attack," said RCMP Asst. Commissioner Mike McDonell.
"Our investigation and arrests prevented the assembly of explosive devices and attacks being carried out. At all times, the focus of our investigation was the safety and protection of the public," he added.
Ammonium nitrate, when mixed with fuel, is highly explosive. Police seized three tonnes of the substance. By comparison, the bomb made by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City used one tonne of the fertilizer.
In addition, police also seized ignition devices, guns and other equipment they say pointed to the construction of the explosives.
Fifteen of the 17 accused were ushered into the Brampton, Ont. courtroom shackled in leg irons and surrounded by an awesome show of police force.
Security was tight with police snipers watching from positions on the roof, while tactical officers carrying M16 assault rifles and MP5 submachine guns patrolled the ground. Bomb-sniffing dogs were on hand.
Spectators were scrutinized at a series of three command checkpoints. Anyone allowed inside the court was required to remove their shoes and demonstrate that any equipment they carried was what it appeared to be.
The accused, dressed casually in jeans or jogging pants and t-shirts, sported traditional Muslim male beards. Most were Canadian citizens or residents.
Police described them as coming from a broad "strata" of society. Some are students, some are employed, some are unemployed. The adults range in age from 19 to 43.
The court appearance culminated two remarkable days of police raids conducted by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, or INSET. These arrests were the largest ever made since the inception of INSET.
Defence lawyer Rocco Galati, who was representing some of the suspects, protested the intense security measures at the court. He asked that security be diminished when the accused next make their next court appearance on Tuesday.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Galati a veteran of terrorism cases, scoffed at the allegations.
"I've seen fertilizer for the last eight years," he said, commenting on the strength of previous cases by the government that he has fought against.
In court, Mr. Galati was accompanied by Aly Hindy, a Toronto imam and friend of the highly-controversial Khadr family, who have well-established connections to al-Qaeda.
Mr. Hindy, a controverisial Iman, leads an Islamic centre in Scarborough, said he knew several of the accused because they prayed at his mosque but said they were not terrorists.
"He said the charges are to keep George Bush happy, that's all."
No new information about the allegations were read into court, but it was noted that the alleged conspiracy dated back to March 2005. It was also revealed that some terror training may have taken place in Fort Erie, Ont. near the U.S. border and at location north of Toronto near Barrie, Ont.,
Lawyers for the accused, asked that their clients be provided with a Koran, and in one case prescription eyewear.
In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the arrests showed that Canadians are not immune to acts of terrorism.
"Today, Canada's security and intelligence measures worked. Canada's new government will pursue its efforts to ensure the national security of all Canadians," said Mr. Harper.
The RCMP says the sweep began Friday night in co-operation with an Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, or INSET. These arrests are the largest ever made since the inception of INSET.
Police say the Toronto Transit Commission — a public transit system that includes buses, subways and streetcars — was not among the targets.
Luc Portelance of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said those arrested are Canadian residents from variety of backgrounds.
INSET teams are made up of members of the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, federal agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and provincial and municipal police services.
Scores of officers, many heavily armed, took the suspects into custody Friday night at a police station in Pickering, Ont., following the raids.
John Thomson, a security specialist with the MacKenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think-tank, said the explosives seized by police would fuel up to three "truck bombs."
"That's enough for a really, really big truck bomb. Probably two or three of them," said Mr. Thomson.
"So when the police said they weren't focussed on the subway I believe them — you really can't use a truck bomb on a subway station. But if you're trying to collapse a building, a truck bomb is perfect for it," he said.
Mr. Thomson said the list of possible targets for such terrorist measures is almost without limit in a large, urban centre like Toronto. But he added that terrorists usually pinpoint their targets before collecting their weapons.
"How many tall office towers are there in Toronto? Or hospitals? Or schools? Or government buildings?" he said.
"If they were acquiring explosives that means they probably already selected a target."
Commissioner McDonell said Western youths who have never set foot in Afghanistan can be "inspired" and radicalized by al-Qaeda in many ways.
"They can be inspired through the use of the Internet, though library, through books and through their own proselytizing to each other and recruiting and radicalizing individuals," he said.
Charged are Fahim Ahmad, 21, of Toronto; Zakaria Amara, 20, of Mississauga; Asad Ansari, 21, of Mississauga; Shareef Abdelhaleen, 30, of Mississauga; Qayyum Abdul Jamal, 43, of Mississauga; Mohammed Dirie, 22, of Kingston;
Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24, of Kingston; Jahmaal James, 23, of Toronto; Amin Mohamed Durrani, 19, of Toronto; Steven Vikash Chand (alias Abdul Shakur), 25, of Toronto; Ahmad Mustafa Ghany, 21, of Mississauga; and Saad Khalid, 19, of Mississauga.
With files from Sasha Nagy