Terrorism Allegations Detailed In Canada
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
TORONTO, June 6 -- Suspects arrested last weekend in an alleged terrorism plot planned to storm the Canadian Parliament and hold politicians hostage, and at least one wanted to behead the prime minister if demands to withdraw Canada's troops from Afghanistan were not met, according to a summary of prosecutors' allegations read in court Tuesday.
According to authorities, the group also planned to bomb power plants in Ontario and invade the downtown Toronto studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., according to the written statement submitted to the court by defense attorney Gary Batasar and read into the record at his request.
The statement, which the lawyer said was a summary of the government's planned charges, indicated that the men had planned to demand the removal of Canada's 2,300 troops from Afghanistan and the release of all Muslim prisoners held in Afghanistan and Iraq. Politicians including Prime Minister Stephen Harper were to be killed if the demands were refused, according to the government allegations, Batasar told reporters outside the courthouse. Prosecutors did not comment on the statements.
The statements offered the first details of the plot that police and intelligence agencies said they disrupted in a series of raids overnight Friday. Twelve men and five youths were arrested.
Fifteen of the suspects appeared in a courthouse in suburban Brampton on Tuesday morning, shackled together and wearing prison T-shirts. Most were remanded for a bail hearing on Monday.
"The allegations are very serious, including storming and bombing of various buildings," Batasar, who represents Steven Vikash Chand, 25, told reporters outside the courthouse. "There is an allegation apparently that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada."
In the capital, Ottawa, Harper brushed aside the news with a joke. "I can live with all these threats as long as they are not from my caucus," he quipped as he walked into his office.
The reaction of other lawmakers ranged from disbelief to worry.
"There were certainly some grandiose plans being made," Joseph Cordiano, a Liberal in Ontario's provincial Parliament, told reporters. "I have serious, serious doubts about their capacity to carry it out."
"The plot was a very serious one," said Peter Van Loan, a Conservative in Parliament representing Ontario. "I don't expect this is the only threat out there. The thing we can take comfort in is that Canada's security measures worked."
The arrests, carried out by hundreds of police officers, have added tension to the issue of U.S.-Canada border security. Canadian politicians have become rankled over comments by some U.S. legislators that the charges are evidence of the danger of terrorism coming south across the long, lightly guarded border.
"I'm very concerned about the amount of play in the U.S. that the threat Canada poses as a 'gateway to terrorism,' " Parliament member Mark Holland, a Liberal representing a Toronto suburb, told CBC television. "It's certainly not true."
Batasar portrayed the sensational allegations as an attempt by the government to frighten the public.
"It appears to me that whether you are in Toronto or Ottawa or Crawford, Texas, or Washington, D.C., what is wanting to be instilled in the public is fear," he said.
Batasar said his client had not spoken to him about the charges. "He said nothing about that. My client retains the right to silence." In the packed courtroom, the accused nodded or waved to relatives, but said little on their own. Several defense attorneys protested that they had been unable to meet their clients individually and that the suspects had not been permitted to see their families.
"Counsel would like to have that right" to talk to their clients personally, not through a plexiglass shield, said defense attorney Donald McLeod.
Several women in black Islamic dress came to watch the proceedings, but would not talk to reporters outside the courthouse. Missing from the hearing was the huge presence of heavily armed police that had guarded the courthouse Saturday when the suspects made an initial appearance.
In announcing the raids, police said the arrests were the result of the largest anti-terrorism investigation in Canada since Sept. 11, 2001. They said the suspects had procured three tons of an explosive fertilizer, intending to set it off at a public target.