TORONTO – 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 would 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 would 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 had disrupted in a series of raids overnight Friday. Twelve men and five teenage boys 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 sloughed off 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.”
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.
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.
Several women in black Islamic dress came to watch the proceedings, but would not talk to reporters outside the courthouse.
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.