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Canada Detainees Accused of Plot Against Parliament

Times Staff Writer

Some of the 17 men and youths arrested in a suspected terrorist plot had planned to storm the nation’s Parliament, take politicians hostage and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper unless their demands for a withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and release of Muslim prisoners were met, prosecutors allege.

The accusations, delivered Tuesday to several of the defendants’ attorneys in a one-page investigation summary, include no evidence to substantiate the charges, said the attorney for Steven Vikash Chand, 25.

“There’s an allegation, apparently, that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada,” attorney Gary Batasar said of the synopsis, which he said he had received minutes before the proceedings.

Batasar complained that he had not been allowed to meet privately with Chand, and later said to reporters outside the courthouse, “This is not Guantanamo, this is Toronto, Canada.”

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In his comments before the judge, Batasar said the prosecution contended 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 of the troops serve under international mandate with the Kabul government’s consent. The defendants, prosecutors say, also planned to demand the release of unspecified Muslim prisoners and to bomb Parliament and decapitate Harper and other political leaders if their demands were rejected.

The prosecution synopsis also mentions plans to seize or blow up the CBC broadcasting headquarters in Toronto, the attorney said.

Harper brushed off the purported 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 against them. Their hands were cuffed and each was shackled to a third defendant, an 18-year-old who was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crimes and appeared confused over the proceedings.

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A chaotic 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 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 the 12 adult and five juvenile defendants held in isolation and forbade family visits, communication with other defendants and group prayer.

Ghany’s attorney, Rocco Galati, also protested the prison conditions, saying he had been unable to meet with his client without security guards eavesdropping through a glass divider.

Bail hearings were postponed until later in the month for the 15 defendants who appeared in court, in a bulletproof glass dock in groups of as many as four at a time. Two of the 17 did not appear because they are already in prison for trying in August to smuggle weapons into Canada across the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie.

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Few details of the government’s case have come to light, but Batasar’s reference to the plot against politicians suggested that prosecutors had either clandestinely acquired communications evidence or had an inside source providing information, national security analyst David Harris noted.

“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 deliberately vague to “leave the defense side with questions of what else the prosecutors might know,” he said.

Hudson ordered the juveniles -- at least one as young as 16 -- held in a facility for youth offenders instead of at the Maplehurst prison where the defendants were taken after their weekend arrests. During raids conducted throughout Ontario province Friday and Saturday, 400 officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and CSIS stormed homes and gathering places frequented by the suspects.

“My client is a very frightened young man,” attorney Michael Block said of a 16-year-old, who cannot be identified under a Canadian law protecting the names of criminal suspects younger than 18.

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

All 12 adults have been charged with terrorism under a December 2001 amendment to the nation’s Criminal Code made after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. 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 an additional 10-year sentence, and six are accused of seeking to detonate explosives against public targets, which can result in a life sentence. Four, including Chand, also stand accused of recruiting or training others for terrorism, which can draw up to a 10-year term.

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Special correspondent Jason Chow contributed to this report.


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