Canada outlines plot to storm Parliament

Alleged terrorists planned to take hostages, behead premier

June 07, 2006|By CAROL J. WILLIAMS | CAROL J. WILLIAMS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BRAMPTON, Ontario -- Prosecutors said yesterday that some of the men charged in a terrorist plot last week planned on storming the nation's Parliament, taking politicians hostage and beheading Prime Minister Stephen Harper if Canadian troops were not withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The accusations delivered in a one-page investigation summary included no evidence to substantiate the charges, said defense attorney Gary Batasar.

"There's an allegation, apparently, that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada," Batasar said of the synopsis of the case against his client, Steven Vikash Chand, 25, which he said he received minutes before the proceedings.

Batasar complained that he had not been allowed to meet with Chand and later told reporters outside the courthouse: "This is not Guantanamo; this is Toronto, Canada."

In court, prosecutors alleged that the defendants planned to invade the Parliament building in Ottawa and take hostages to demand that Canadian forces leave Afghanistan, where about 2,300 serve under international mandate with the Kabul government's consent. According to prosecutors, the defendants planned to demand the release of Muslim prisoners and to bomb Parliament and decapitate Harper and other political leaders if their demands were rejected.

The prosecution synopsis also mentioned plans to seize or blow up the Canadian Broadcasting Co. headquarters in Toronto, Batasar said.

Harper brushed off the alleged plot against him, joking to reporters as he left the lower house, "I can live with these threats, as long as they're not from my caucus."

As Batasar and two other defense lawyers protested the conditions of their clients' detention, Chand and Ahmad Mustafa Ghany, 21, surveyed the courtroom and smirked as the charges were read. Their hands were cuffed and they were shackled to an arm of a third defendant, an 18-year- old who was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crimes and appeared confused about the proceedings.

A parade of handcuffed and manacled defendants in white T-shirts and Velcro-fastened gray trousers was escorted into the small, packed courtroom of Judge Maurice Hudson at the Ontario Court of Justice in this Toronto suburb. Outside, hundreds of reporters swarmed around lawyers and defendants' relatives, eager for details of a case that has jolted Canadians and led to criticism of the nation's liberal immigration policies.

Heeding federal prosecutor Jim Leising's appeal for maximum- security confinement because of the seriousness of the charges, Hudson ordered that the 12 adult and five juvenile defendants be held in isolation and forbade any family visits, communication with the other defendants or group prayer.

Ghany's attorney, Rocco Galati, protested the harsh conditions, saying he had been unable to meet with his client without security guards eavesdropping on their discussion through a glass divider.

Bail hearings were postponed for all 15 defendants who appeared in court, led into a bulletproof glass dock in groups of up to four at a time. Two of the 17 charged after province-wide raids on Friday and Saturday did not appear yesterday because they are serving sentences at an Ontario prison for trying in August to smuggle weapons across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo, N.Y., to Fort Erie in Canada.

Few details of the crown's case against the purported terrorist cell have come to light, but the allegations mentioned by Batasar suggest that prosecutors had clandestinely acquired communications or had an inside source providing information, said security analyst David Harris.

"One possibility is that they used bugs or wiretaps," said Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and now head of a security think tank.

The summary of the prosecution's case might have been left deliberately vague to "leave the defense side with questions of what else the prosecutors might know," Harris said.

Hudson ordered that the five juveniles - at least one as young as 16 - be held in a facility for youth offenders instead of the Maplehurst prison where the defendants were taken after their arrests over the weekend. During the raids, 400 officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the CSIS stormed homes and gather- ing places frequented by the suspects.

"My client is a very frightened young man," attorney Michael Block said of a 16-year-old defendant, who cannot be identified according to Canadian law protecting the names of those under 18 accused of committing crimes.

Seven of the 17 defendants are teenagers and all but two - Qayyam Abdul Jamal, 43, and 30-year-old Shareef Abdelhaleen - are 25 or younger.

Nineteen-year-old Saad Khalid, a diminutive, beardless youth who gave members of his family a nervous wave, was the last to be brought before Hudson, shackled to a juvenile defendant.

All 12 adult suspects have been charged with terrorism under a December 2001 amendment to the nation's Criminal Code after the Sept. 11 attacks. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Nine of the men have been charged with training for the purpose of terrorist activity, which can bring a 10-year sentence, and six face charges that they sought to detonate bombs against public targets, which can result in a life sentence. Four, including Chand, also stand accused of recruiting or training others for terrorism, an offense that can draw a 10-year term.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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