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School Ties Link Alleged Plotters

A policeman guards the underground entrance to a Brampton, Ont., courthouse where terrorism suspects were brought June 6.
A policeman guards the underground entrance to a Brampton, Ont., courthouse where terrorism suspects were brought June 6. (By Nathan Denette -- Associated Press)

Gradually, they gravitated to the Al-Rahman Islamic Center, a storefront mosque in a small strip mall in Mississauga. There they met Qayyam Abdul Jamal, 43, a taciturn Pakistani native with an angry view of the world. He cleaned the rugs and took out the trash at the mosque. For those services, the directors tolerated his vitriolic speeches that portrayed Muslims as oppressed by the West, according to people familiar with the mosque.

"Many people who worked with him thought he was just a loudmouth," said Tariq Shah, a lawyer who represents the mosque. "In retrospect, maybe it was wrong that he wasn't taken more seriously."

Across Toronto at an eastern suburb called Scarborough, a similar process was underway, at the Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute, a high school. An alumnus of the school, Mohamed Durrani, 19, and another man, Steven Vikash Chand, 25, a former Canadian army reservist, frequented the school grounds to encourage Muslim students to come to the mosques, students and acquaintances told reporters last week. At least two of the juveniles, a 10th-grader and a 12th-grader who are not being identified because of their ages, joined their group.

The group proved inept at keeping its activities secret. The complaints about Jamal, and some of the Internet traffic, drew the attention of investigators as early as two years ago, police officials have confirmed.

Then, in March last year, two Atlanta-area men already under scrutiny in the United States traveled to Toronto to meet Khalid's older acquaintance Fahim Ahmad and a friend from the Scarborough group, Jahmaal James, then 22, according to an FBI affidavit. They allegedly talked about targets for terrorist attacks in North America and the possibility of training in Pakistan.

That summer, Ahmad used his credit card to rent a car for two immigrants from Somalia, Mohammed Dirie, then 22, and Yasin Abdi Mohamed, 22. Those two drove to Columbus, Ohio. When they arrived at the border to return to Canada, guards stopped the car and searched the two. They reported finding a pistol tucked in the back waistband of Mohamed's pants and two more semiautomatic weapons taped to the inner thighs of Dirie.

The arrests and visit by the men from Georgia-- both with ties to Ahmad -- prompted Canadian intelligence and police officials to begin physical and electronic surveillance. Authorities apparently were watching last November, when Zakaria Amara drove to northern Ontario. Prosecutors offer the following account for how the conspiracy unfolded from there:

Amara stopped at the local police and Natural Resources Ministry offices to inquire about nearby forests. He returned to the area the week before Christmas and set up a camp in woodlands near the town of Orillia. Eleven men and boys came with him. They wore camouflage uniforms, fired a 9mm pistol, played paintball, and engaged in training "clearly for terrorist purposes."

They made plans for a second session at the camp. They named their scheme "Operation Badr," after a battle of early Islamic history, and discussed strategies. They would take politicians hostage in the capital, demand the removal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the release of Muslim prisoners, and execute the politicians "one by one" if the demands were not met.

Ahmad put a deposit down on another illegal firearms purchase. The suspects scouted out a house where they could retreat after staging an attack. They shoplifted walkie-talkies. Amara plumbed the Internet at public libraries to learn how to assemble a bomb. Durrani enrolled in flight training but eventually backed out, believing he would attract too much attention.

The group had business cards printed up to pose as fictional "student farmers" to raise fewer suspicions as they bought the fertilizer for a bomb.

But as the conspirators talked and made plans, they fractured in disagreement. Zakaria Amara wanted to use truck bombs. Fahim Ahmad favored an attack with guns. Amara thought Ahmad was taking too long.

In the end, they settled on both methods, the government contends. Amara and the Mississauga group would bomb a site in Toronto -- the final list included a downtown Toronto skyscraper containing the offices of Canada's spy agency, the Toronto Stock Exchange and a military establishment. At the same time, Ahmad, who had moved to Scarborough with the group there, was to storm the Parliament or some other public place.

By last month, Amara had concluded that they needed three tons of ammonium nitrate -- the group wanted to make a bomb bigger than the two-ton explosive that Timothy McVeigh used to shatter the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.

When the youths ordered the fertilizer, agents intercepted the shipment and substituted an inert powder. Police watched as Khalid and one of the youths worked at a rented warehouse June 2 to prepare to receive the shipment. The two lined cardboard boxes with plastic to store the material. When Amara paid $4,000 to an undercover officer for the fake fertilizer, the police descended. Khalid and the juvenile were arrested at the warehouse. Squads of officers positioned around Toronto rounded up the others through the evening.

Khalid is now at Ontario's Maplehurst Correctional Center in solitary confinement. His cell has a metal bed, two blankets, and a light bulb that stays on all night. He met with his lawyer Thursday, but the two were separated by a glass shield and were able to talk only on a telephone. Khalid held it awkwardly, with his wrists still handcuffed together, said the lawyer, Arif Raza.

"Obviously, he's very down," Raza said. "Very depressed."

Researcher Natalia Alexandrova contributed to this report.

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