TORONTO -- Canadian intelligence agents and police arrested 17 people who had amassed a huge cache of explosives and who were ready to bomb public targets, authorities said yesterday.
The 12 men and .ve juveniles were seized in raids Friday night in the suburbs of Toronto. Police said the suspects, most of whom were believed to be Canadian citizens, had assembled three tons of ammonium nitrate and had fashioned a cellphone into a detonator.
The potential for bloodshed was large. The bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killed 168 people with two tons of the same chemical fertilizer packed in a truck.
Authorities declined to identify the group's planned targets, but a report in The Toronto Star said the sites included the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and the downtown of.ces of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, near the famed CN Tower in Toronto.
The suspects appeared in a Toronto court yesterday to face charges under Canada's terrorism laws, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
Authorities divulged few details about the men, who all had Arabic names and ranged in age from 19 to 43.
Since the bombings of the London public transit system last summer, Canadian authorities have said they had no illusions that Canada was immune from attack.
They warned of the anger in the radical fringes of the country's growing Muslim enclaves and said they believed the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan had fanned those passions. They have said they also knew of clandestine contacts between Canadian Muslims and extremists, including two Muslim Americans arrested this year in Georgia on terrorism charges.
"An attack on Canadian soil is now probable," Canada's spy agency warned Parliament last month.
A top of.cial of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service last week repeated the warning, emphasizing the threat of terrorists born and bred in Canada.
Police said the suspects had trained together outside Toronto.
Although an intelligence of.cial, Luc Portelance, said the group members were "adherents of a virulent ideology inspired by al-Qaeda," police acknowledged they had no evidence of a direct link to the terrorist group.
Instead, most of the suspects were young students or workers who fed on the political debates swirling around Canada's mosques and immigrant Muslim neighborhoods, according to what could be learned about the men and their communities. They sharpened their radicalism over the Internet without traveling to the Middle East.
"They are Canadians. They came to Canada at an early age or were born here," Toronto's mayor, David Miller, said yesterday. He questioned "how people would get sucked into this act."
Intelligence and security agents have been aware of some the suspects for nearly two years, according to reports and statements by of.cials here.
The seriousness of the threat became clearer to authorities when the two men from Georgia traveled to Toronto in March 2005 and met with other Muslims to discuss bombing targets, according to the FBI.
The two men, Syed Ahmed, 21, and Ehsanul Sadequee, 19, were arrested in March and April and face charges of giving material support to terrorism. Three of the Canadian men they met were already under of.cial suspicion here, according to the af.davit.
Mike McDonell, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, indicated that the raids were undertaken as the group prepared to carry out an attack, but he said more speci.c information would have to emerge from court proceedings. He denied rumors that the targets included Toronto's subway system.
"This group posed a real and serious threat," he said. "They had the capacity and the intent to carry out these attacks."
Of.cials said they had dismantled the group but that further arrests were possible. They also warned that this was not the only group threatening Canada's security.
"We were able to stop this," McDonell said. "It's what we don't know that's got us worried."