Canada Police Use Sting in Terror Arrests

Associated Press | Jun 4, 2006
By Beth Duff-Brown

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (AP) - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police itself delivered three tons of potential bomb-making material to a group that authorities said wanted to launch a string of attacks inspired by al-Qaida, according to a news report Sunday.

The Toronto Star said the sting unfolded when investigators delivered the ammonium nitrate to the group of Muslim Canadians, then moved in quickly on what officials called a homegrown terror ring.

The newspaper said that investigators learned of the group's alleged plan to bomb targets around Ontario, then controlled the sale and transport of the fertilizer.

Authorities refused to discuss the Star's story and have revealed few details of the purported plot, or how the sting developed.

Police arrested 12 adults, ages 19 to 43, and five suspects younger than 18 Friday and Saturday on charges including plotting attacks with explosives on Canadian targets.

The oldest, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, led prayers at a storefront mosque attended by some 40 to 50 families down the street from his home in a middle-class neighborhood of Mississauga, west of Toronto.

Imam Qamrul Khanson said the language of Jamal's Friday night prayers had a more aggressive tone than other prayer leaders', but there was never any talk of terrorism or violence.

Khanson said at least three of the suspects regularly prayed at the Al-Rahman Islamic Center for Islamic Education.

"Here we always preach peace and moderation," Khanson said at the one-room mosque.

"I have faith that they have done a thorough investigation," Khanson said of authorities. "But just the possession of ammonium nitrate doesn't prove that they have done anything wrong.

Officials said the operation involved some 400 intelligence and law-enforcement officers and was the largest counterterrorism operation in Canada since the adoption of Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said Web surfing and e-mail among the suspects led to the start of the probe in 2004.

"The Internet was, according to the police, was a very important part of their activities," Canada's ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, said in an interview on CNN's "Late Edition."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Canadian operation was "obviously a great success for the Canadians."

The 17 suspects represent a spectrum of Canadian society, from the unemployed to the college-educated. The 12 adults live in Toronto, Mississauga and Kingston, Ontario.

Police said the suspects, all citizens or residents of Canada, had trained together.

Cpl. Michele Paradis, a spokeswoman for the Mounties, said no more arrests were expected in coming days.

"Once we once analyze and sort through everything that was seized as a result there may be (more arrests)," she said. "At this point we are confident that we have the majority of people."

Rocco Galati, a lawyer for two of the men from Mississauga, said: "Both of their families are very well-established professionals, well-established families, no criminal pasts whatsoever.

He described Ahmad Ghany, 21, as a Canada-born health sciences graduate of McMaster University whose father, a physician, emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago in 1955.

His other client, Shareef Abdelhaleen, 30, is an unmarried computer programmer who emigrated from Egypt at age 10 with his father, Galati said.

Two suspects, Mohammed Dirie, 22, and Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24, already are in an Ontario prison serving two-year terms for possession of illegal weapons.

Neighbors said the oldest suspect, Jamal, was often home and did not seem to work regularly, although his wife drove a schoolbus. The couple has three small children, neighbors said.

Brazilian immigrant Jerry Tavares said Jamal was unfriendly and rarely spoke with neighbors.

Lawyers and relatives of other suspects could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Mike McDonnell, an assistant commissioner with the Mounties, said Saturday that the amount of ammonium nitrate acquired by the alleged terror cell was three times that used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 800.

The fertilizer is safe by itself, but when mixed with fuel oil or other ingredients, it makes a powerful explosive.

There was no indication that Canadian police altered the fertilizer to make it unusable in a bomb.

The FBI said the Canadian suspects might have had "limited contact" with two men recently arrested on terrorism charges in Georgia. There was no indication Sunday, however, that the 17 detainees were trying to plan an attack in the United States.

Another imam, Aly Hindy, said he knew nine of the suspects and complained that Canada's spy agency, CSIS, has unfairly targeted his mosque and congregants for years.

"They have been harassed by CSIS agents and this is what they come up with?" Hindy said. "I'm almost sure that most of these people will be freed."

Engineer Mohammed Abdelhaleen said he feared his son, Shareef, had already been convicted in the court of public opinion.

"He just goes and prays in a mosque," the father said. "That's all he does."

Muslim leaders voiced worries about a backlash.

A mosque in northwest Toronto was vandalized, with 25 windows and three doors smashed, police said.

Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, told The Associated Press that he and other Muslim leaders were getting threatening e-mails.