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Monday, June 05, 2006

Canadian suspects targeted Ottawa, Toronto--media

TORONTO, June 5 (Reuters) - High-profile sites like the Peace Tower at the center of Ottawa's parliamentary complex and a building at the foot of Toronto's CN Tower were among the targets of a group of home-grown terror suspects arrested at the weekend, Canadian media said on Monday.

And police said they could not rule out further arrests in what is already Canada's largest counter-terrorism operation.

The group -- 17 people have been arrested so far -- had the "intent and capability" to launch attacks, Mike McDonell, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told CBC Radio on Monday.

"There is a chance we could be arresting more people. We are following up every lead to the nth degree, and any person that has aided, facilitated or participated in this threat will be arrested."

The men and youths were arrested on Friday night and early Saturday in a high-profile police swoop that involved some 400 officers in and around Toronto, Canada's largest city and its economic powerhouse.

Canada's spy agency says the suspects were inspired by al Qaeda. Charges against them -- not proved in court -- include participating in or contributing to a terrorist group as well possessing firearms and explosives.

Several of the suspects attended the same mosque in a Toronto suburb where a local parliamentarian had complained in the past about the radical views held by some worshippers.

All were Canadian residents, and most were citizens, prompting parallels with the London bombings a year ago, where young British nationals carried out suicide attacks on one double decker bus and three underground trains.

"Targets of the alleged plot included political and economic symbols such as the Parliament buildings and Peace Tower in Ottawa, along with the CN Tower and Toronto Stock Exchange," the Globe and Mail newspaper said.

Police say the group had amassed three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be mixed with fuel oil to create a powerful explosive. That's three times the amount of ammonium nitrate that was used in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, that killed 168 people.

"Obviously anybody who's collecting three tonnes of ammonium nitrate isn't doing it for purposes of fertilizing their gardens," Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day told CTV Television on Sunday. "There was very serious intent here."

The Toronto Star newspaper said the group had received the fertilizer as part of a police sting operation, but the RCMP's McDonell said he could not confirm this.

Canada's Council on American-Islamic Relations put out a statement expressing relief that the arrests had averted "potential terror attacks," but other Islamic groups feared a backlash against Moslems, who make up an estimated 2 percent of Canada's population of 33 million.

Vandals smashed windows at a Toronto area mosque on Saturday night. "It's a hate crime. They need to be dealt with according to the law," Toronto deputy police chief Kim Derry told CBC Television.
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