(by Angus Loten, Monica Gutschi and Phred Dvorak, The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com) OTTAWA – Canadian authorities said they found and foiled a terrorist bomb-making plot by three men here-one allegedly with links to the conflict in Afghanistan and another, a pathologist who auditioned for the TV show “Canadian Idol.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP] arrested the trio of Canadian citizens after raids on their houses turned up schematics, videos, drawings, books and manuals for making explosives, said Serge Therriault, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in charge of criminal investigations.
The suspects-identified as Hiva Alizadeh, 30 years old; X-ray technician Misbahuddin Ahmed, 26, both of Ottawa; and hospital worker Khurram Syed Sher, 28, of London, Ontario-were charged Thursday with “knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity.”
“A vast quantity of terrorist literature and instructional material was seized, showing that the suspects had the intent to construct an explosive device for terrorist purposes,” said Mr. Therriault. The arrests Wednesday and Thursday “prevented the assembly of any bombs or terrorist attacks from being carried out,” he added.
The trio were working with an “ideologically inspired terrorist group” with links in Iran, Afghanistan, Dubai and Pakistan, the RCMP said. While officials would not say whether the trio had links to al Qaeda, they were driven by “violent Islamist ideology,” according to Raymond Boisvert, assistant director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency.
Mr. Alizadeh had been trained in bomb-making abroad, the RCMP said, although it wouldn’t disclose the country.
Police didn’t specify any target, but said the RCMP had been concerned for the safety of Ottawa residents.
The RCMP wouldn’t disclose where the three suspects were born or when they immigrated to Canada, if they weren’t born there. Mr. Sher said he was from Pakistan on a YouTube video of his “Canadian Idol” audition. Mr. Alizadeh took English-as-a-second-language classes at River Red College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the college spokesperson says, adding that he doesn’t know where he was from. The spokesperson at the hospital in Ottawa where Mr. Ahmed works said he couldn’t disclose personal information due to Canadian privacy laws.
Prosecutors have requested the evidence be sealed, says Sean May, Mr. Alizadeh’s lawyer. Mr. May and a lawyer for Mr. Ahmed declined to comment on the specifics of the case. Mr. Sher’s lawyer hasn’t been publicly identified.
Wednesday’s arrests came after a year-long investigation by Canadian intelligence forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, dubbed Project Samosa. The police said the trio had been working together since February 2008. It marked the biggest counterterrorist bust since 2006, when police arrested 18 Toronto youth [Muslim extremists] for plotting attacks against a series of domestic targets like Canadian military bases and Parliament.
The arrests also echo terror-related detentions in the U.S., including a [Muslim] man accused of planting a bomb in New York’s Times Square and a pair [of Muslim men] who were allegedly aiding a plot to attack a Danish newspaper.
US officials said the CIA wasn’t involved and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was informed of the current investigation by RCMP, but that there are no U.S. links or suspects.
The RCMP said it found 50 circuit boards designed to detonate bombs remotely at the house of Mr. Alizadeh, the alleged leader of the group. No completed bombs were found, but the components are enough under Canadian law for Mr. Alizadeh to be charged with possession of an explosive device.
Mr. Alizadeh was also charged with financing the purchase of weapons to be used against coalition forces in Afghanistan, although the RCMP didn’t provide details. Other arrests are expected. Security officials said they are still investigating three other suspects who allegedly worked with the trio from outside Canada, identified as James Lara, Zakaria Mamosta and Rizgar Alizadeh. The RCMP wouldn’t say whether the two Alizadehs are related, or disclose the countries the three live in, only saying they are working with “international partners” to apprehend them.
People who know the three men who were arrested say Messrs. Ahmed and Sher are educated professionals, a profile common to many radical members of groups like al Qaeda in Western countries, says Martin Rudner, a professor emeritus at Carleton University in Ottawa, who specializes in intelligence and national security.
Mr. Sher is a pathologist at St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital in southern Ontario, who moved with his wife and three daughters to London, Ontario, a month ago. Mr. Ahmed is a radiography technologist at the Ottawa Hospital.
Mr. Sher is an avid hockey player who played in Montreal’s Muslim Ball Hockey League, and has an award named after him for the most aggressive scorer, says Faisal Shahabuddin, 38, a friend who was captain of Mr. Sher’s team. Mr. Shahabbuddin says he can’t believe the charges are true.
“Personally, I think there must be some misunderstanding, some mistake,” said Mr. Shahabuddin.
In 2008, Mr. Sher won some international notoriety by auditioning for Canada’s version of “American Idol,” singing a version of Avril Lavigne song “Complicated,” complete with moon-walking moves, Mr. Shahabuddin confirmed. The performance even earned a Facebook fan-club page titled “Khuram Sher is our Canadian Idol.”
Several posts linked to the YouTube video of Mr. Sher’s audition from people claiming to be his friends or relatives claim he tried out as a joke.
Little is known about Mr. Alizadeh, who attended Red River College, a technical school, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he studied English as a second language and electrical engineering, said Colin Fast, Red River College’s communications manager.
-Caroline Van Hasselt contributed to this article.
Write to Monica Gutschi at firstname.lastname@example.org and Phred Dvorak at email@example.com.
1. Identify the 3 men arrested in Canada who were accused of plotting terrorist attacks, along with their occupations.
2. On what charges were the three men arrested? (see para. 4, 13-14)
3. What group were the three men working with?
4. How do Canadian police view the threat the three men posed to Ottawa residents?
5. How did the police come to suspect the three?
6. a) What information wouldn’t police share with the media? (see para. 5, 6, 8, 14)
b) Why do you think the police declined to give specific details?
Canada has more than one million Muslims in its population of 34 million, and their population is projected to triple in the next two decades. (from ians news)
The Toronto-18 plot was exposed in June 2006 when 18 Toronto-area Muslim youth were arrested for conspiring to blow up major targets and storm parliament to take leaders hostage and behead the prime minister. (from ians news)
For background on Canada, go to the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2089.htm.