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Canada sting tied to wider scrutiny

Multiple nations probe suspected terrorist cells

WASHINGTON -- The arrest of 17 terrorism suspects in Canada is part of a continuing, multinational probe into suspected terrorist cells in at least seven countries, a US counterterrorism official confirmed yesterday.

The senior US law enforcement official said authorities are combing through evidence seized during raids in Canada this weekend to look for possible connections between the 17 suspects arrested Friday and at least 18 other Islamist militants who have been arrested in locations including the United States, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Britain, Denmark, and Sweden.

The investigation began as separate probes into what authorities believed were localized cells of militant Muslim young men, who shared an interest in radical ideology on the Internet in various countries and, to a lesser extent, in local mosques and training camps.

But over the past year, the counterterrorism authorities of those countries began to see connections among the cells, in part through electronic surveillance of phone calls and Internet correspondence, as well as ground surveillance of individual suspects, several US officials said in interviews yesterday.

``The case is a very good example of how things work in the post Sept. 11, 2001, world. In this case law enforcement and intelligence services from half a dozen places coordinated daily during a very complex investigation," said the US law enforcement official. ``It involved surveillances [of] every mode of travel and crossed multiple borders. Each set of arrests [was] coordinated between all agencies and considered carefully for how they might effect the ongoing probe."

``It ran long," he said of the broader multinational investigation, ``because the investigators wanted to make sure they took enough time to try and identify as many potential players as possible."

Authorities would not describe the precise nature of the suspected connections among individuals arrested in Canada and elsewhere. Police raids in Toronto on Friday night and early Saturday resulted in the arrest of 12 adults ranging in age from 19 to 43, and five juveniles. The suspects had no evident connections to Al Qaeda, authorities said. But they were said to be actively conspiring to blow up undisclosed Canadian targets.

The Canadian authorities have charged the suspects with various terrorism-related offenses, and allege that they had accepted delivery of three tons of the fertilizer ammonium nitrate, which can be combined with fuel to make an extremely powerful bomb.

The Toronto Star, citing unnamed sources, reported that the fertilizer was delivered to the suspects as part of an undercover police sting.

When the deal was completed, the antiterrorism task force moved in to arrest the suspects, the newspaper said. Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokeswoman Michelle Paradis would not comment on the report.

Yesterday, US and Canadian authorities said forensic specialists were reviewing the information contained in various computers and other electronic gear seized in the investigation.

The 17 suspects have a bail hearing scheduled for this week; Lawyers and family members have described them as innocent victims caught up in a police dragnet aimed at proving that Canada is tough on terrorism.

Canada's new ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, said the Canadian end of the investigation has been going on for nearly two years, and that authorities believe the Internet-savvy suspects did much of their communicating online, where they also developed their radical ideology.

``My understanding of it is that the Internet played a very important part of it," Wilson said on CNN's ``Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

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