Globe and Mail Update and Canadian Press
A terror attack potentially three times more devastating than the Oklahoma City bombing has been averted, the RCMP alleged Saturday.
A counterterrorism sweep Friday resulted in the largest arrest ever made by the nation’s anti-terrorism forces and raised, for the first time, the spectre of homegrown terrorists striking Canadians from within our borders.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell announced the arrest of 12 Ontario men who were to appear in court later Saturday in Brampton, west of Toronto. The men ranged in age from 19 to 43, and are residents of Toronto, Mississauga and Kingston.
Five youths who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act have also been arrested and charged.
Commissioner McDonell alleged that the suspects were part of a homegrown terror cell intent on launching attacks against targets in Southern Ontario.
“This group presented a real and serious threat. They had the capacity and intent to carry out a terrorist attack,” said RCMP Asst. Commissioner 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.
Police have recovered three tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the raids. Commissioner McDonell noted that this amount was three times the amount used by Timothy McVeigh to destroy the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Ammonium nitrate/fuel oil mixtures have occasionally been used for improvised bombs, most infamously in the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on April 19, 1995.
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.
Media reports Saturday alleged that the suspects engaged in terror training camps north of Toronto. It was further alleged that the group was plotting to attack targets in Toronto, including the headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
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 at a police station in Pickering, Ont., following the raids.
All entrances to the Brampton court house were blockaded by steel barriers and police cruisers and manned by teams of officers as officials waited for the suspects to arrive.
Spectators were scrutinized at a series of three command checkpoints by tactical officers carrying M16 assault rifles and MP5 submachine guns. Bomb-sniffing dogs were on hand. Anyone allowed inside the court was required to remove their shoes and demonstrate that any equipment they carried was what it appeared to be.
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.”
The RCMP’s 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.