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Canada plot suspect accused of plan to behead PM

Written by: Staff
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BRAMPTON, Ontario, Jun 6 (Reuters) One of 17 men accused of plotting bombings in major Canadian cities and of training militants also faces an allegation that he sought to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his lawyer said today.

Steven Chand, 25, was among 15 members of the alleged terrorist ring who appeared in a heavily guarded courtroom north of Toronto to set dates for bail hearings.

The Muslim men, five of them under the age of 18, were arrested on Friday in Canada's largest counterterrorism operation, and police said more arrests are possible.

Chand's lawyer, Gary Batasar, said his client faced several serious charges and was concerned that intense media interest in the details of the case in Canada and the United States could jeopardize Chand's chances of a fair trial.

Allegations include plans for the ''storming and bombing of various buildings,'' Batasar told reporters.

''There's an allegation apparently that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada,'' Batasar said.

''It's a very serious allegation -- he's said nothing about that. My clients retains the right to silence.'' Members of the group are alleged to have considered plans to take hostages and to attack Canada's parliament in Ottawa, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. building in Toronto and power grids, according to a synopsis of charges Batasar said he saw.

''It appears to me that whether you're in Ottawa or Toronto or Crawford, Texas, or Washington D.C., what is wanting to be instilled in the public is fear, and that's why everybody's here today, and that's unfortunate,'' he said.

Another place mentioned by court documents as a possible target for the group included the Toronto office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, at the foot of the landmark CN Tower.

The accused men, wearing white T-shirts and gray sweat pants, were escorted into the small courtroom four at a time, shackled together. About 20 family members sat together while more than two dozen other people, mostly media, crammed inside.

Snipers were on the roofs of nearby buildings and police cradled guns beside an airport-style security checkpoint.

At the proceeding, a justice of the peace ruled that one of the accused, Shareef Abdelhaleen, 30, will appear at a bail hearing July 4.

All the others will appear June 12 to set hearing dates.

In what has raised questions about the safety of Canadians and U.S. border security, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police say the men took delivery of three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be mixed with fuel oil to produce a powerful explosive.

It took just one tonne of the fertilizer to build the 1995 Oklahoma City bomb that killed 168 people.

Other charges against the men include trying to build bombs and training, or being trained, as terrorists, according to court documents. Police haven't named the five youths in the group, or listed charges against them.

Canadian newspapers said the men had a training camp in a wooded area north of Toronto. Residents have been concerned about night-time gunfire and wondered what police helicopters were looking for as they buzzed overhead.

Lawyers complained their clients were being kept in isolation in jail and were barred from seeing family members or praying as a group.

''We'd like to be able to facilitate that religious freedom that they're entitled to,'' said Donald McLeod, attorney for accused Jahmaal James, 23.

The men and youths arrested were all Canadian citizens or Canadian residents. Seven worshiped at the same mosque and two were already in jail on weapons charges.

Muslims make up some two per cent of Canada's population of 33 million, and leaders fear the arrests will spark attacks on their community.

REUTERS SRS HT0002

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