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Canada suspects targeted Ottawa, Toronto - media

Written by: Staff

TORONTO, June 5 (Reuters) High-profile sites such as the Peace Tower in Canada's Parliament and Toronto's CN Tower complex were among targets identified by a group of home-grown terror suspects arrested at the weekend, Canadian media said today.

Canada's spy agency said the anti-terror sweep meant there was no longer an ''imminent threat.'' But 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 today.

''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 and Saturday in an operation that involved some 400 police officers in and around Toronto, Canada's largest city and its economic powerhouse.

All those arrested were residents of Canada, and most were Canadian citizens, prompting parallels to be drawn with the London bombings of a year ago, when young British suicide bombers killed 52 people and wounded 700 by setting off bombs on the city's transit system.

Canada's spy agency said the arrests meant it ''would be irresponsible to say that there is an imminent threat just as it would be irresponsible to say that there's no threat.'' A spokeswoman for the Canadian Security intelligence Service added: ''We've been living in an elevated threat environment since 9/11 and that elevated threat environment continues.'' 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 Muslims, who make up an estimated two per cent of Canada's population of 33 million.

Vandals smashed windows at a Toronto area mosque on Saturday night. ''It's a hate crime,'' Toronto deputy police chief Kim Derry told CBC Television.

The agency said 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 worshipers.

''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 yesterday.

''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.


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