At least one member of a group of terror suspects plotted to storm Canada's parliament and behead officials, including the prime minister, if Muslim prisoners in Canada and Afghanistan were not released, according to charges made public Tuesday.
Authorities also alleged that in addition to targeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Steven Vikash Chand plotted to take over media outlets such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“There’s an allegation apparently that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada,” attorney Gary Batasar said. “It’s a very serious allegation. My client has said nothing about that.”
Chand is a 25-year-old restaurant worker from Toronto. Charges were expected to be read against at least some of the other suspects Tuesday.
Batasar spoke outside the courthouse, where bail hearings for 10 of the 17 suspects were postponed.
He said the charges were based on fear-mongering by government officials.
Police expect more arrests, while intelligence officers sought ties between 12 men accused of scheming to blow up Canadian targets and five other teen suspects and Islamic terror cells in the United States and five other countries.
The Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, a small city just west of Toronto, said Monday the men arrested over the weekend were charged with participating in a terrorist group. Other charges include importing weapons and planning a bombing.
The charges against the five minors were not made public.
Sermons ‘filled with hate’
Toronto Mayor David Miller said CN Tower, a downtown landmark, and the city’s subway were not targets as had been speculated in local media, but declined to identify sites that were.
A Muslim leader who knew the oldest suspect, 43-year-old Qayyum Abdul Jamal, told The Associated Press that Jamal’s sermons at a local mosque were “filled with hate” against Canada.
Authorities said more arrests were expected, possibly this week, as police pursue leads about a group that they say was inspired by the violent ideology of the al-Qaida terror network.
“We’ve by no means finished this investigation,” Mike McDonell, deputy commissioner for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told AP. “In fact, you might look at it that, really, we’re just starting with the arrests. We have a responsibility to follow every lead.”
‘Foreign connections’ alleged
Although both Canadian and U.S. officials said over the weekend there was no indication the purported terror group had targets outside Ontario, McDonell told AP on Monday that there are “foreign connections,” but he would not elaborate.
Responding to the arrests, the U.S. Border Patrol stepped up inspections of traffic entering the country from Canada and put agents on high alert along the 4,000-mile border.
In Washington, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House said President Bush spoke with Harper about the case Monday afternoon, but gave no specifics of what was discussed.
A U.S. law enforcement official said investigators were looking for connections between those detained in Canada and suspected Islamic militants held in the United States, Britain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Denmark and Sweden.
American authorities have established that two men from Georgia who were charged this year in a terrorism case had been in contact with some of the Canadian suspects via computer, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
“It came to a point where our concern for the safety and security of the public far outweighed our appetite for collecting evidence,” said McDonell, the RCMP deputy commissioner.
Police: No evidence of ties to al-Qaida
Canadian police say there is no evidence the suspect group had ties to al-Qaida, but describe its members as sympathetic to jihadist ideology. Officials are concerned that many of the suspects were roughly 20 years old and had been radicalized in a short amount of time.
Each is charged with one count of participating in a terrorist group.
Three of them — Fahim Ahmad, 21, Mohammed Dirie, 22, and Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24 — also are charged with importing weapons and ammunition for the purpose of terrorist activity.
Nine face charges of receiving training from a terrorist group, while four are charged with providing training. Six also are charged with intending to cause an explosion that could cause serious bodily harm or death.
No information was released on the five young males arrested due to federal privacy laws that protect minors.
Officials announced Saturday that the suspects were arrested after the group acquired three tons of ammonium nitrate, which can be mixed with fuel oil to make a powerful explosive. One-third that amount was used in the deadly bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
Some people who know the suspects said they were astonished by the arrests.
Change of behavior
But Faheem Bukhari, a director of the Mississauga Muslim Community Center, said Jamal, the oldest suspect, had taken to giving hateful sermons and preaching intolerance to young Muslims at a storefront mosque in Mississauga, a city near Toronto where six of the suspects lived.
“These youth were very fun-loving guys, soccer-loving guys, and then all of sudden they were not associating with guys they used to,” Bukhari said, referring to the younger suspects.
“People around him knew he was very extreme,” Bukhari said, adding that Jamal once told “the audience that the Canadian Forces were going to Afghanistan to rape women.”
Canada has about 2,300 soldiers in southern Afghanistan to bolster Afghan reconstruction and combat Taliban militants.