Canadian authorities said Saturday they had foiled plans for a homegrown terrorist attack with the arrests of 17 men and teenagers, who were "inspired by al-Qaida" and had obtained three times the amount of explosives used in the deadly Oklahoma City bombing.
The FBI in Washington said the Canadian suspects may have had "limited contact" with two men recently arrested on terrorism charges in the state of Georgia.
"These individuals were allegedly intent on committing acts of terrorism against their own country and their own people," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. "As we have said on many occasions, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism."
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they had arrested 12 male adults and five youths on terrorism charges, including plotting attacks with explosives on Canadian targets. The suspects were either citizens or residents of Canada and had trained together, they said.
"This group took steps to acquire three tons of ammonium nitrate and other components necessary to create explosive devices," said assistant Royal Canadian Mounted Police commissioner Mike McDonell. "This group posed a real and serious threat. It had the capacity and intent to carry out these attacks."
He noted that this was three times the amount used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The April 19, 1995, attack killed 168 people and injured more than 800.
"The men arrested yesterday are Canadian residents from a variety of backgrounds. For various reasons, they appeared to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaida," said Luc Portelance, assistant director of operations with CSIS - Canada's spy agency. However, he said investigators had yet to make any link to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
The first five suspects were led in handcuffs later Saturday to the Ontario Court of Justice, which was surrounded by snipers and bomb-sniffing dogs. The men were told by a judge not to communicate with one another and he set their first bail hearing for next Tuesday.
Alvin Chand - brother of Toronto suspect Steven Vikash Chand - said outside the courthouse his brother was innocent and that authorities "just want to show they're doing something."
"He's not a terrorist, come on. He's a Canadian citizen," Chand told the AP. "The people that were arrested are good people, they go to the mosque, they go to school, go to college."
Also at the court hearing was Aly Hindy, an imam of Scarborough's Salaheddin Islamic Center, which houses a school and mosque that has been monitored by security agencies for years. He said he knows nine of the suspects and that Muslims were once again being falsely accused.
"It's not terrorism. It could be some criminal activity with a few guys, that's all," said Hindy. "We are the ones always accused. Somebody fakes a document and they are an international terrorist forging documents for al-Qaida."
FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko in Washington, D.C., said there may have been a connection between the Canadian suspects and a Georgia Tech student and another American who had traveled to Canada to meet with Islamic extremists to discuss suitable locations for a terrorist strike.
"The FBI is aware of the ongoing law enforcement activity in Canada," Kolko said. "There is preliminary indication that some of the Canadian subjects may have had limited contact with the two people recently arrested from Georgia."
Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Secretary Michael Chertoff telephoned his counterpart in Canada, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, to discuss the arrests, but said they would not heighten the Homeland Security daily threat advisory.
Officials at the news conference displayed evidence of bomb-making materials - including a red cellular phone that was wired up to what appeared to be an explosives detonator inside a black toolbox - a computer hard drive, camouflage uniforms and a door riddled by bullet holes.