Canada Saw Plot to Seize Officials

By ANTHONY DePALMA
Published: June 7, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/07/world/americas/07canada.html?_r=2&th&emc=th&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

BRAMPTON, Ontario, June 6 Prosecutors here assert that some of the men charged in a terror plot last week planned a series of violent attacks that included seizing Parliament and beheading Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other lawmakers if Canadian troops were not withdrawn from Afghanistan, a defense lawyer said in court Tuesday.

The accusations were part of a government summary that was given to a lawyer for one of the suspects and other defense lawyers just before preliminary hearings began. The document was not made public, but the lawyer disclosed part of its content because he said he wanted to force the government to disclose its evidence.

Jim Leising, the government prosecutor in the terror case, did not comment on the accusations in the summary.

The new accusations, if true, would disclose a startling new aspect of the case against 12 Muslim men and 5 youths. Previously, investigators have said only that the men intended to use homemade explosives to bomb unidentified targets in southern Ontario.

Although they expressed doubts about the capacity of the suspects to pull off such bold attacks, Canadians, in interviews with various news outlets, said the latest disclosures only heightened their current alarm about the possibility of violence by homegrown terrorists.

"Canadians have to understand and appreciate that we are citizens of a world where danger is everywhere," Peter Van Loan, a member of Parliament from Ontario, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "We're not exempt from that, much as we might wish we were."

More than 100 journalists gathered outside the A. Grenville and William Davis Courthouse on Tuesday morning as 10 of the 12 men accused in the terrorist plot appeared in court for preliminary hearings. They were handcuffed and wore white T-shirts and gray prison pants. The five who have been charged as minors also appeared.

All the suspects asked for bail proceedings to be postponed while their lawyers prepared their defense. The bail hearings are not expected to be held for several weeks.

In the Canadian court system, prosecutors in major cases present evidence at the bail hearing as they argue against suspects being released on bail.

Two suspects did not appear in court because they are already serving prison sentences for trying to bring guns into Canada illegally.

Several lawyers complained that extraordinary security had prevented them from speaking to their clients in private. The men, all residents of Canada, have been held in isolation at a maximum-security prison since shortly after they were arrested over the weekend. They have been prohibited from talking to their families or one another.

According to court documents, all have been charged with belonging to a terrorist group. Six are accused of plotting to bomb several unidentified buildings in Canada. Others are charged with running training camps, receiving terrorist training and trying to smuggle weapons across the border from the United States.

On Tuesday, there were details for the first time about another reported plan for an attack, this one intended to cripple Canada's government and disrupt its economy. Gary Batasar, the lawyer for one of the suspects who read the accusations in court, said that if prosecutors were going to make such claims they should disclose their evidence so defense lawyers can respond adequately.

Mr. Batasar said he read the accusations for the first time when he received the government summary on Tuesday morning. He said one page of the eight-page document referred specifically to his client, Steven Vikash Chand, 25, of Toronto. Mr. Chand, who appeared in court with long black hair and a full beard, listened intently to the accusations against him, then rolled his eyes.

Mr. Chand is charged with belonging to a terrorist group and recruiting and training people to join the group. He is not charged with participating in the bomb plot.

Another suspect, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, 43, is the eldest of the men and is considered by the authorities to be their leader. Mr. Jamal, one of those charged with planning the bombings, could be seen directing one of the lawyers to ask the judge for special medical attention for the youth the lawyer represented.

Mr. Batasar said the government papers laid out a plot to storm the Gothic Revival buildings of Parliament in Ottawa and take hostages. The hostages would be beheaded if the terrorists' demands that Canadian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan were not met.

Mr. Chand was said to have remarked that he would "personally like to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper," Mr. Batasar said. The document also said the men intended to attack power lines and news media offices, including the CBC building in Toronto.

Mr. Harper, in the main Parliament building, took the threat in stride. "I can live with these threats, as long as they're not from my caucus," he told reporters.

Jack Layton, an opposition leader in Parliament, said the terror investigation had turned up nothing to convince him that it is time to severely restrict access to government buildings or "turn an accessible institution of democracy into a bunker."

Security at Parliament Hill in Ottawa has been tightened since 9/11, but pedestrians still can walk up to most of the buildings without passing through security gates.

Investigators have said little about the evidence they have gathered against the suspects. At a news briefing on Saturday they showed a computer tower, a crude cellphone detonator and other electronic equipment they had seized. They also showed a bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that they said was like the three tons of material the suspects had planned to use to make bombs.

American officials, who have acknowledged being involved in the yearlong investigation, said Canadian authorities had monitored Internet chat rooms, e-mail messages and telephone conversations to learn of the activities of the suspects.

Christopher Mason and David Staba contributed reporting for this article from Brampton, and Ian Austen from Ottawa.