By CBS News Investigative Unit producer Phil Hirschkorn.
Authorities say the 17 men accused of plotting homegrown terrorist attacks on the Canadian government contemplated using an airplane as a weapon, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, and possessed detonators that could trigger bombs by a cell phone, a technique employed by the Madrid train bombers in 2004.
These chilling details alleged by Canadian investigators are contained in the complete eight-page charging document submitted to the Canadian court this week. The document, which paints the fullest picture yet of the alleged terrorist conspiracy, has not been made public but has been reviewed by CBS News.
The document describes the changing targets the suspects allegedly considered and their paramilitary activities in an improvised training camp north of Toronto. It also clarifies the links between the Canadian suspects and two men detained in the United States for their alleged terrorist schemes.
As prosecutors lay out the chronology, investigators used a combination of communication intercepts, physical surveillance, and undercover operations to foil the plot.
Canadian prosecutors allege suspects Fahim Ahmad, 21, and Zakaria Amara, 20, were the ringleaders who quoted al Qaeda's statements admonishing followers to seek out "big targets" in the U.S. and Canada. Their homegrown plot would be called "Operation Badr," a name likely derived from the seventh-century battle won by Muslim fighters.
Authorities say at first, their ire focused on the gothic Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa — taking politicians hostage and demanding Canadian troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Muslim prisoners freed from Canadian jails. The court document also says the plan called for beheading hostages "one by one at specified times" until their demands were met.
Other targets initially discussed, authorities say, were the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency offices in Ottawa and Toronto and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police headquarters in Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters in Toronto and military bases are also said to have been on the list.
More striking is the allegation that plotters considered using an airplane as a weapon, though exactly what kind of plane and how it would be used is not indicated. The document does say suspect Amin Durrani, 19, enrolled in flight training at Centennial College but withdrew so as not to draw attention to himself.
Last November, Ahmad allegedly dispatched Amara to find an "isolated location for future training of the group," according to the document. Amara allegedly chose a forested area in a town called Washago, about a two-hour drive north of Toronto.
By consulting with a ministry of natural resources office and a police detachment in the area, however, Amara, provoked police surveillance. Prosecutors say officers observed the site continuously during the week before last Christmas when at least nine of the adult men charged and four the five youths arrested, whose names appear in the document, attended the camp. Two of those youth allegedly shoplifted walkie-talkies for the group.
In addition to Ahmad, Amara, and Durrani, suspects Asad Ansari, 21, Qayyum Jamal, 43, Jahmaal James, 23, Steven Chand, 25, Ahmad Ghany, 21, and Saad Khalid, 19, "took part in training that was clearly for terrorist purposes," according to the document.
They allegedly wore camouflage clothing, fired a 9-mm semi-automatic pistol and a pellet gun, played paintball, engaged in marches and winter survival training, and rotated as 24/7 sentries. Police and neighbors heard the practice gunshots, and police later found spent ammunition casings on the grounds.
The Muslim fighters allegedly used photographs of Hindu gods as targets and Ahmad made speeches to the group as it discussed attack scenarios. Prosecutors say the group watched jihadist videos and made a video of their own, documenting their actions — in part, to recruit more conspirators and raise money. Police later found the incriminating video on a CD in Amara's house. Ansari, said to be the least adept at the drills, is said to have been valued for his computer skills and was the one who recorded the video.
Ahmad allegedly communicated with conspirators in the United Kingdom and Pakistan about training camps in Pakistan and arranged for suspect James to obtain training there when he made the trip in January, according to prosecutors. They say Ahmad also made a cash deposit for more weapons so the Canadian group could organize a second camp with even more recruits at home.
Eventually, in March, Ahmad and Amara came to disagree on the nature of the plot, according to the court document, which alleges that Amara believed truck bombs — multiple, simultaneous attacks — was the best terror path to pursue.
He allegedly focused on three Toronto targets — the CSIS, the stock exchange, and an unspecified military target — and went about acquiring materials for a one-ton ammonium-nitrate bomb for each event. Prosecutors allege suspect Shareef Abdelhaleen, 30, a computer programmer, explored ways to profit from a stock exchange attack, and went on to assist Amara.
Amara allegedly devised a homemade remote control detonator and acquired American-made devices, consisting of two MK 160 circuit boards, a type of inexpensive remote-control switch, and a large 12-volt battery pack that could function as a triggering device activated from unlimited range using a cell phone.
Prosecutors say Amara used public library computers to research al Qaeda activities and material suppliers. According to the court document, he decided on an explosive brew of three tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, two liters of 90 percent pure nitric acid, and 240 grams of mercury for the three truck bombs.
Amara allegedly relied on Abdelhaleen to serve as an intermediary with Canadian chemical suppliers and find a storage facility. Because a three-ton purchase of ammonium nitrate would attract attention, the group allegedly planned to pose as farm owners needing fertilizer.
Amara is accused of having printed 200 business cards in the name of "Student Farmers" with a matching AOL e-mail address. The court document charges that on April 6, Abdelhaleen gave $2,000 to an undercover cop posing as a chemical supplier and paid another $4,000 last Friday, when the entire group was arrested.
That evening, according to police, Khalid and Ansari were inside the chosen "Greater Toronto area" warehouse preparing the transfer of the ammonium nitrate from bags to less conspicuous boxes, and had just finished lining the boxes with plastic when the bust occurred. According to the court document, anticipating the group's need for a safe house after the attack, Khalid and the fifth youth had signed a lease on a single family home beginning June 1, but the group opted to use the warehouse instead as its bomb factory and retreat.
The investigation, known as Operation Oswage, kicked into high gear last August 13, when two suspects, Mohammed Dirie, 22, and Yasin Mohamed, were arrested on the Peace Bridge after reentering Canada with three unregistered semi-automatic handguns and 182 rounds of ammunition. The duo was driving a car rented with a credit card belonging to Ahmad. The guns, it turns out, were purchased in Columbus, Ohio, according to the court document.
Prosecutors say the more critical American connection was the March 2005 visit of Ehsanul Sadequee, a Virginia-born U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi descent who went to high school in Canada, and Syed Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan who studied engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Sadequee, jailed in Brooklyn, is accused of lying to the FBI about his Canada trip, while Ahmed is under indictment for providing material support for terrorism. Ahmed traveled to Pakistan, he has said, for Islamic schooling. He is in custody in Georgia.
The Canadian court document says the "like-minded extremists" — as U.S. prosecutors call them — visited in Toronto last year by Sadequee and Ahmed were alleged ringleader Ahmad and suspect James.
U.S prosecutors say Sadequee and Ahmed later underwent "military-style training exercises" in the north Georgia mountains and made "casing videos" of possible targets in Washington, D.C., including the Capitol and the World Bank headquarters.
Canadian prosecutors say in their document that in addition to the 17 men that are already in custody, other arrests are expected.