Muslim Hate in Canada
Toronto terror plot: Suspects were religious men, according to colleagues, neighbours
By: Jennifer Pagliaro and Allan Woods Staff Reporters
Published on Mon Apr 22 2013
Accused terror plotter Raed Jaser left a Qur’an unannounced for his Toronto neighbour. Chiheb Esseghaier’s Quebec colleagues say his beliefs became increasingly hardline.
Raed Jaser’s neighbour remembers the Qur’an.
Small with a green cover, it was left in his mailbox one day last fall, unannounced and unexplained, a few months after he and his family moved to Cherokee Blvd., near Finch Ave. and Hwy. 404.
The man, who asked not to be identified to protect his family, said he put the Qur’an back on his neighbour’s car.
He never learned his neighbour’s name until more than a dozen RCMP officers arrived unannounced at his home on Monday around 3 p.m. — the same time as a scheduled news conference.
The Mounties showed him a photo of the man next door, the same man whose Qur’an he had returned.
That man, now believed to be Jaser, 35, of Toronto, is suspected, along with Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, of hatching a terror plot to derail a VIA Rail train. Their arrests Monday by the RCMP put an end to the alleged scheme.
“I was OK, but now it’s scary because I saw the news,” the neighbour said over the phone while officers questioned his family in his home about anything they’d noticed.
He recalled how several months after the appearance of the Qur’an a woman believed to be living next door with his neighbour came to the door with books and a fruit basket for his son, who had been sick.
On Monday, police said neither Jaser nor Esseghaier is a Canadian citizen, but they would not elaborate on the men’s nationality.
According to sources, however, Jaser is Palestinian and immigrated here from the United Arab Emirates, and Esseghaier was a Tunisian national who appears to have been living in Quebec for the past four years.
Esseghaier’s devout adherence to Islam reportedly set apart him from colleagues at a high-tech research facility.
He arrived in Sherbrooke, Que. from Tunis in late 2008 and rented a small apartment next to a laundromat for about six months. He then moved to Montreal, a city he often visited while studying at the Université de Sherbrooke, according to a former landlord.
In 2010, Esseghaier began working toward his doctorate at one of the province’s jewels of advanced research, the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS), located just south of Montreal.
A spokesperson for the Institute said authorities did not forewarn them of his arrest, but confirmed that Esseghaier was indeed the student picked up by the RCMP’s anti-terror squad.
A former colleague at the Institute said she was stunned when she got a text message Monday afternoon informing her of the terror bust.
“I’m in shock, seriously. It’s just a big surprise,” said the woman, who no longer works at INRS.
The colleague, who asked that her name not be published, said Esseghaier was one of many international students who study at the Institute. She also remembered him making use of its prayer room.
“He was, from what I understand, very strict in following his beliefs,” the woman said.
Esseghaier’s profile on the business networking site LinkedIn makes no secret of his devotion to Islam. In place of a personal photo, there is a white-on-black image of Arabic script proclaiming: “There is no God but Allah.”
One of Esseghaier’s classmates told Radio-Canada that he had increasingly been sharing his “troubling” hardline religious views with friends. He said he considered the Tunisian national to be “dangerous.”
He spoke last year at conferences in Cancun and Montreal on his research in the field of biosensors had him speaking at conferences last year. As well, he spoke at the TechConnect World Conference in Santa Clara, Calif. last June, just two months before police said he came onto their radar as a suspected terrorism plotter.
Police did not say if his entry into the United States — and the extra screening he would have been subjected to — caught the attention of anti-terrorism authorities on either side of the border. They also said little about how Esseghaier and Jaser allegedly came to be connected.
An imam at the Islamic Society of Willowdale in Scarborough said Jaser regularly attended the mosque on Victoria Park. Ave. for over two years.
“He is a quiet person who always greeted everyone and was pleasant when he was here,” the imam said, adding members were shocked by news of the alleged terror plot. “He didn’t show any signs leading up to this that he was anything like this.”
There was a large RCMP presence Monday at an industrial plaza in North York. According to an automatic email signature, an “R. Jaser” is a customer service representative at a moving company located in the plaza.
Muslim 'parallel society' within Canada a threat: Report
AFP November 15, 2010
OTTAWA - Islamists aim to build a "parallel society" in Canada that risks undermining its democracy and multiculturalism and becoming a "catalyst for violence," warned a national security report published Monday.
The newly declassified document obtained by the National Post says Islamic hardliners are calling on Muslims living in Western countries to segregate themselves and adhere only to Shariah law.
"Even if the use of violence is not outwardly expressed, the creation of isolated communities can spawn groups that are exclusivist and potentially open to messages in which violence is advocated," warns the report posted on the newspaper's website.
"At a minimum, the existence of such mini-societies undermines the resilience and the fostering of a cohesive Canadian nation."
The report was written by the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre which collates threat information from Canada's spy service, federal police, military, foreign affairs department and other agencies.
According to the National Post, it was circulated internally after a Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Toronto last year on establishing an Islamic caliphate. "By definition, their world views clash with secular ones. A competition for the hearts and minds of the diaspora Muslims has hence begun," the report concludes.
It notes that Islamist hardliners while promoting the synchronization of state laws with religious beliefs "are careful to couch their policies in terms of Western freedoms."
They see the movement as "the peaceful advocacy of minority rights," it said.
But the report also notes the Dutch Intelligence Service has labeled the movement as "sinister" and one which "could gradually harm social cohesion and solidarity and could harm certain fundamental human rights."
As well, it cites examples in Denmark in which Muslims bypassed the court system to administer their own form of justice, in one case beating a man accused of assaulting a young boy.
A portrait of
TORONTO - They are being called "homegrown terrorists."
But they are not believed to be al-Qaida. More likely, they are a group inspired by the terror organization but with no formal links, according to law enforcement.
They are young men, all residents of Canada. Most of them citizens.
Some are so young the Canadian government won't release their names because they're minors. The oldest is 43.
Many came to Canada with their families, many when they were children. They came from Afghanistan, Egypt and Somalia. At least one is from the Caribbean.
Many of them live in the well-to-do suburbs of Toronto.
They are all Muslim, a couple of them converts from other religions. At least four worshipped at a tiny prayer room in a strip mall.
But what they all had in common, allegedly, was outrage over the West's treatment of Muslims abroad and particularly, the U.S invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
And they met, according to the Toronto Star, about two years ago through Internet chat sites where they spouted their anger and allegedly began to plot attacks.
At least some of them are believed to have traveled to a terrorist training camp in northern Ontario modeled after al-Qaida camps that spawned many of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, according to the Star.
An imam who says he knows nine of the 17 suspects, however, says he believes that the authorities are mistaken about the young men.
"I have doubts that any of these guys did anything wrong," said Aly Hindy, the imam of Salaheddin Islamic Centre in the Scarborough section of Toronto, told The Buffalo News. "I think they're innocent. If some of them are guilty, I don't think it's terrorism. It may be criminal, but it's not terrorism."
Suspects known to imam
Hindy said at least four suspects attend his mosque: Fahim Ahmad, Jahmaal James, Steven Chand and an underage Sri Lankan who converted from Hindu to Muslim.
Hindy said of all the suspects, Ahmad, 21, may be guilty - but only of participating in gun smuggling.
"He rented a car for two guys to go the U.S. and to go get guns and sell it into the black market," Hindy said.
James, Hindy said, is of African descent and was a convert to Islam. He had come to Hindy, known as a matchmaker in his community, to find him a wife.
"I said go to Pakistan," Hindy said.
James, 23, traveled to Pakistan four months ago, married a woman there, but apparently couldn't get her a visa to come back to Canada with him.
Chand, 25, had come to Hindy to ask for financial help at one point, Hindy said. The Star reported that he had been unemployed for some time but recently found work at a Middle Eastern fast food stand.
Four other suspects regularly prayed at a tiny prayer room in a strip mall in Mississauga, Ont.
Among them was Shareef Abdelheen, 30, a computer programmer. There was also Qayyum Abdul Jamal, 43, whom Hindy said was very vocal about his distaste for the Iraq War.
"When he sees a Muslim being killed, he can't keep quiet," Hindy said.
The Star also reported that Jamal was a widower with four sons and that he drives a school bus.
Another was Ahmad Mustafa Ghany, 21, the son of a physician who is in medical school at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. Hindy said he recently officiated at Ghany's wedding to a 17-year-old.
He also said he knew Zakaria Amara, who like, Jamal, wasn't shy about vocalizing his hate for the Iraq War.
"They're all from different areas, different social levels in society, education," Hindy said. "The whole thing doesn't make sense. Some of them are highly educated. You doubt that it's terrorism. This has nothing to do with violent acts. It should be handled as a criminal case."
Security experts say that, just because they're not taking direct orders from Osama bin Laden, that doesn't mean they're to be taken less seriously.
Leaderless cells are the MO of terror today, experts say.
The train bombings of late in Madrid and London are examples of how terror cells can operate, and be successful in their deadly plans, without any direct contact with a leader.
"There aren't commands coming down from a central authority," said Mike German, a former FBI agent who specialized in counterterrorism and is a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Globalsecurity.org.
"These groups, they are following a methodology," German told The News. "They're leaderless. There are actual manuals out there on how to be a lone-wolf terrorist."
German also cautioned against dismissing the Toronto suspects as simple wanna-bes.
"There's a tendency when they're caught before they're able to do anything, for them to be seen as bumbling idiots," German said. "Like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. You tend to think he's a clown. But this guy, in a post-9/11 environment, was able to get a bomb on a plane. Only intervention from passengers stopped him . . . It's really just a matter of luck whether one is successful or not. Thankfully in this case, the good guys were able to stop it."
Canadian targets alleged
Canadian authorities say the 17 suspects tried to obtain 3 tons of ammonium nitrate and were "planning to commit a series of terrorist attacks against solely Canadian targets in southern Ontario," Mike McDonnell, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said in a statement.
According to the Star, the RCMP participated in a sting and provided the explosives to the cell before arresting the members.
The cell wanted to blow up the offices of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, near the CN Tower in downtown Toronto, and the Parliament buildings, according to the Star.
The Los Angeles Times reported that members of the group also had discussed the possibility of hitting targets in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
But White House officials said there was no known threat to the United States.
"We certainly don't believe that there's any link to the United States," said Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.
However, authorities began to grow more suspicious of the alleged Toronto cell after two U.S. citizens from Georgia traveled to Canada last spring to meet with them to discuss attacks on oil refineries and military bases.
One of them, Syed Haris Ahmed, was a Georgia Tech student who tried to go to Pakistan to train at a terrorist camp. A second man, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, was arrested later in Bangladesh.
More arrests expected
A government official close to the investigation told the Associated Press that more warrants were pending and more arrests were expected, possibly this week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is open.
The terror sweep in Toronto has left many unsettled, particularly in the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities that make up this diverse, multicultural city.
In Rexdale, a neighborhood made up of Indian, Pakistani and Indo-Caribbean communities where the pungent smell of spices of oils fill the air, locals were shakened and saddened by a vandalism attack on a local Islamic center following the arrests.
Overnight, about 30 windows were smashed at the sprawling International Muslim Organization of Toronto. Several car windshield were also broken. "It's sick," Ameer Ali, secretary of the center, told The News. "Whoever did this destroyed a place of worship. It hurts us because we try our best to serve this country as Canadians. We open the doors to show people that Islam is a religion of peace."
In downtown Toronto around the CN Tower Sunday evening, security didn't seem any tighter than usual.
Azucena Rocha, 24, an immigrant from Mexico who works feet away from the CN Tower in a downtown coffee shop, said the arrests left her concerned.
"I feel it was disturbing," she said as she stacked chairs in the patio. "It's a shock for a lot of Canadians. You expect these things to happen in the States, not Canada. I'm not saying the U.S. is a bad country. They're just usually the targets.
David DiLella, who was out on an evening stroll by the tower with his girlfriend, Erin Dimeno, described the weekend's events as "a wake-up call" for Canda.
He also said he believed peaceful Muslims aren't doing enough to quell the violence within their ranks.
School Ties Link Alleged Plotters
Arrested Canadians Had Bonded at Clubs and on Soccer Fields
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 11, 2006; Page A16
TORONTO -- They were school pals. One is 15. Most are just out of high school, some still in. The 17 boys and men whom Canadian police are calling "homegrown terrorists" forged their bonds in student clubs and on school soccer fields, chatted on the Internet, and urged each other to be heroes for their faith.
The arrests last weekend left many Canadians pondering how a country proud of its diverse culture and political moderation could spawn such an apparent interest in violence. Especially by people so young.
What started as boasts and youthful rhetoric crystallized into action, the government says. The youths ordered $4,000 worth of ingredients for a bomb, built a detonator and cased out targets for a two-pronged attack that would take hostages on Parliament Hill in Ottawa while setting off bombs in Toronto, prosecutors contend.
The plans allegedly ranged from the fanciful -- steering remote-controlled toys loaded with explosives into police stations -- to the meticulous. The suspects calculated the exact solutions of nitric acid and grams of mercury they would need to detonate the bombs, according to a summary of the prosecutors' allegations reviewed by The Washington Post.
The school ties have some people here asking if Canada's attempt to accommodate all faiths and backgrounds -- many Canadian schools offer rooms for Friday prayers and foster Muslim student clubs -- is encouraging religious divisions. Some of the clubs "are very conservative, very judgmental," said Rizwana Jafri, a Muslim and an administrator at a Toronto-area high school. "Young people are looking for a group to belong to, and religion plays into that. It's almost cult-like."
Suspect Saad Khalid, now 19, is typical of those charged. At Meadowvale Secondary School, he was bright and outgoing in his early high school years, fellow students told reporters last week. His father, a technology professional from Pakistan, lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to Canada 10 years ago. The family recently moved to a brick townhouse in one of the new suburban developments being carved out of farmland in Mississauga, a spreading suburban town west of Toronto.
In 2003, Khalid's mother died in an accident. In the following years, he became more strident about his Muslim faith. He formed athe Religious Awareness Club to preach Islam during lunch hours at the Meadowvale school. He spent time with two older classmates, Fahim Ahmad, now 21, and Zakaria Amara, 20, the government contends.
Meadowvale is a bustling, brick school in the heart of Mississauga. Teenage boys in T-shirts and baggy jeans lolled about the campus last week. A smaller knot of young girls, with Muslim headdress, stood in the shade of a tree. School officials declined to speak to reporters and urged students to do the same.
"Young people who are disenfranchised or ill-fitting in a society look for ways to belong, and sometimes religion plays to that, creating a desire for martyrdom, a desire to be a hero," Jafri said. In her view, the school clubs they form sometimes paint an extreme view of a Muslim world at odds with the secular values the school is trying to teach.
Khalid and his pals spent time in a chat room on the Internet and called themselves the "Meadowvale Brothers." According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, which reported on the electronic chat diary before it was removed from the Web, the young men's talk dealt with movies and final exams. But Zakaria Amara kept returning to the issue of sacrifice for Islam.
"I love for the sake of Allah, and hate for his sake," he wrote, according to the newspaper.
Khalid and the others began attending a mosque together, teacher Ahmed Amiruddin told CBC Radio last week. "They would enter into the mosque to pray. They would come in military fatigues," he said. "It looked to me like they were watching a lot of these Chechnyan jihad videos online."
Gradually, they gravitated to the Al-Rahman Islamic Center, a storefront mosque in a small strip mall in Mississauga. There they met Qayyam Abdul Jamal, 43, a taciturn Pakistani native with an angry view of the world. He cleaned the rugs and took out the trash at the mosque. For those services, the directors tolerated his vitriolic speeches that portrayed Muslims as oppressed by the West, according to people familiar with the mosque.
"Many people who worked with him thought he was just a loudmouth," said Tariq Shah, a lawyer who represents the mosque. "In retrospect, maybe it was wrong that he wasn't taken more seriously."
Across Toronto at an eastern suburb called Scarborough, a similar process was underway, at the Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute, a high school. An alumnus of the school, Mohamed Durrani, 19, and another man, Steven Vikash Chand, 25, a former Canadian army reservist, frequented the school grounds to encourage Muslim students to come to the mosques, students and acquaintances told reporters last week. At least two of the juveniles, a 10th-grader and a 12th-grader who are not being identified because of their ages, joined their group.
The group proved inept at keeping its activities secret. The complaints about Jamal, and some of the Internet traffic, drew the attention of investigators as early as two years ago, police officials have confirmed.
Then, in March last year, two Atlanta-area men already under scrutiny in the United States traveled to Toronto to meet Khalid's older acquaintance Fahim Ahmad and a friend from the Scarborough group, Jahmaal James, then 22, according to an FBI affidavit. They allegedly talked about targets for terrorist attacks in North America and the possibility of training in Pakistan.
That summer, Ahmad used his credit card to rent a car for two immigrants from Somalia, Mohammed Dirie, then 22, and Yasin Abdi Mohamed, 22. Those two drove to Columbus, Ohio. When they arrived at the border to return to Canada, guards stopped the car and searched the two. They reported finding a pistol tucked in the back waistband of Mohamed's pants and two more semiautomatic weapons taped to the inner thighs of Dirie.
The arrests and visit by the men from Georgia-- both with ties to Ahmad -- prompted Canadian intelligence and police officials to begin physical and electronic surveillance. Authorities apparently were watching last November, when Zakaria Amara drove to northern Ontario. Prosecutors offer the following account for how the conspiracy unfolded from there:
Amara stopped at the local police and Natural Resources Ministry offices to inquire about nearby forests. He returned to the area the week before Christmas and set up a camp in woodlands near the town of Orillia. Eleven men and boys came with him. They wore camouflage uniforms, fired a 9mm pistol, played paintball, and engaged in training "clearly for terrorist purposes."
They made plans for a second session at the camp. They named their scheme "Operation Badr," after a battle of early Islamic history, and discussed strategies. They would take politicians hostage in the capital, demand the removal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the release of Muslim prisoners, and execute the politicians "one by one" if the demands were not met.
Ahmad put a deposit down on another illegal firearms purchase. The suspects scouted out a house where they could retreat after staging an attack. They shoplifted walkie-talkies. Amara plumbed the Internet at public libraries to learn how to assemble a bomb. Durrani enrolled in flight training but eventually backed out, believing he would attract too much attention.
The group had business cards printed up to pose as fictional "student farmers" to raise fewer suspicions as they bought the fertilizer for a bomb.
But as the conspirators talked and made plans, they fractured in disagreement. Zakaria Amara wanted to use truck bombs. Fahim Ahmad favored an attack with guns. Amara thought Ahmad was taking too long.
In the end, they settled on both methods, the government contends. Amara and the Mississauga group would bomb a site in Toronto -- the final list included a downtown Toronto skyscraper containing the offices of Canada's spy agency, the Toronto Stock Exchange and a military establishment. At the same time, Ahmad, who had moved to Scarborough with the group there, was to storm the Parliament or some other public place.
By last month, Amara had concluded that they needed three tons of ammonium nitrate -- the group wanted to make a bomb bigger than the two-ton explosive that Timothy McVeigh used to shatter the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.
When the youths ordered the fertilizer, agents intercepted the shipment and substituted an inert powder. Police watched as Khalid and one of the youths worked at a rented warehouse June 2 to prepare to receive the shipment. The two lined cardboard boxes with plastic to store the material. When Amara paid $4,000 to an undercover officer for the fake fertilizer, the police descended. Khalid and the juvenile were arrested at the warehouse. Squads of officers positioned around Toronto rounded up the others through the evening.
Khalid is now at Ontario's Maplehurst Correctional Center in solitary confinement. His cell has a metal bed, two blankets, and a light bulb that stays on all night. He met with his lawyer Thursday, but the two were separated by a glass shield and were able to talk only on a telephone. Khalid held it awkwardly, with his wrists still handcuffed together, said the lawyer, Arif Raza.
"Obviously, he's very down," Raza said. "Very depressed."
Researcher Natalia Alexandrova contributed to this report.