Canadian Terror Suspects May Have Been Targeting Government Buildings

Three suspects arrested by Canadian authorities this week on terrorism-related charges had been collecting materials and instructions for building homemade bombs and may have considered targeting Canadian government buildings, national-security officials say. Three additional suspects in the case are wanted but have not yet been arrested. For the moment, U.S. officials say, there appears to be no American link to what Canadian officials are calling a major terror inquiry.

In press statements in Ottawa today, representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country's undercover spy agency, announced that the three men apprehended so far in this week's roundup had accumulated a stash of homemade bomb materials, including "schematics, videos, drawings, instructions, books, and electrical components designed specifically for the construction of Improvised Explosive Devices." The Mounties also said they believe that the three men arrested so far in the case are part of an unnamed domestic terror group operating in Canada, and that one of the men is a member of and was in contact with a terror group linked to the war in Afghanistan. The Mounties said they have evidence that one of the three men had been trained in bomb-building.

The Mounties identified the three men already in custody as Hiva Mohammed Alizadeh, Misbahuddin Ahmed, and Khurram Syed Sher (the latter of whom memorably appeared on Canadian Idol in 2008, as seen in the clip above). A spokesman for the Mounties told Declassified they are all Canadian citizens, but would not further describe the men's backgrounds. Nor did Canadian authorities identify the Afghan-based terror group to whom they said one of the men was linked, though some Canadian news reports suggested there might be a connection to Al Qaeda. Information on the formal charges issued against the three arrested men named three other suspects—James Lara, Rizgar Alizadeh, and Zakaria Mamosta—as alleged co-conspirators in what the authorities described as a plot to facilitate "a terrorist activity," though further details were not provided. The official communiqué did allege, however, that the plot supposedly unfolded in Canada, Iran, Afghanistan, Dubai, and Pakistan. Sgt. Stéphane Turgeon, a spokesman for the Mounties in Ottawa, confirmed that as of Thursday afternoon, Lara, Alizadeh, and Mamosta were not in custody and that further arrests were possible.

Turgeon described the investigation, to which the official communiqué gave the code name "Project Samossa," as "a big case." He said the suspects arrested so far were expected to make their initial court appearance in Ottawa, where two of the men were picked up. (The third was apparently arrested in London, Ontario.)

Turgeon said he could not confirm reports linking the plot to Al Qaeda, nor could he discuss what investigators believe the ultimate objective of the plot might have been. However, a national-security official familiar with reporting on the case, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said there were indications the men may have been plotting to attack Canadian government buildings, presumably in Ottawa, the national capital. The official also said there was reason to believe that at least one of the suspects had traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region for explosives training.

Ever since Montreal resident Ahmed Ressam was caught by U.S. Customs officers trying to enter the U.S. from Canada on the eve of millennium celebrations with a car filled with explosives, both American and Canadian authorities have expressed concern about the fact that numerous radical groups have established a presence in Canada and that the border with the U.S. has traditionally been one of the friendliest international frontiers in the world. Since the foiling of the millennium plot, which was, in a sense, a harbinger of the subsequent successful 9/11 attacks, both Canadian and U.S. authorities have greatly stepped up their efforts to keep tabs on such groups, though U.S. officials sometimes complain that CSIS isn't big enough to stay on top of all potential threats.

Before this week's arrests, the most sensational recent terror inquiry pursued by Canadian authorities was the case of the "Toronto 18," who in 2006 were accused of plotting to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange and other public buildings. Earlier this year the alleged mastermind in the case was sentenced to life in prison, although charges against some of the original defendants were dropped.