TORONTO – A terror suspect who allegedly plotted to storm Canada's Parliament and behead the prime minister was a former reservist who received weapons training, an official said Wednesday.
Steven Vikash Chand — who went by the alias of Abdul Shakur, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — belonged to the Royal Regiment of Canada, a reservist unit that meets in Toronto, Cmdr. Denise Laviolette told The Associated Press.
Chand was a member from June 2000 through April 2004, Laviolette said, but was quick to dispel any notion that he was a well-trained soldier ready for combat duty.
"Mr. Chand, his personal record indicates that he spent a large portion of his time on leave of absence," Laviolette said. "We're fairly confident — we still have to get access to his larger file — but we don't think he completed his occupational training, which would have been his infantry training."
However, he would have received some training on a C7 automatic rifle, typically used by infantrymen in the Canadian Forces, Laviolette said.
Fifteen of 17 suspects appeared in court Tuesday to set dates for their bail hearings, after the RCMP announced Saturday that authorities had foiled a plot by the group to attack targets in southern Ontario. They said 12 men — and five teenagers — had obtained three tons (2.73 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate, three times what was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
Gary Batasar, a lawyer for Chand, had a clerk in the Ontario Court of Justice courtroom read aloud part of a synopsis of the allegations against his 25-year-old client.
The allegations focused on a plot to storm the Parliament building in Ottawa, take politicians hostage and behead them if the government did not pull its 2,300 troops out of Afghanistan and release Muslim political prisoners.
He told the AP later that some of the other suspects face similar accusations, but did not say who or how many.
The synopsis, given to defense attorneys but not made public, also included alleged plans to bomb power plants in southern Ontario, the Toronto Stock Exchange and the downtown Toronto office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — Canada's spy agency.
The Globe and Mail reported the synopsis included a lengthy and meticulous investigation into the alleged plot, in which months worth of surveillance, communication intercepts and physical evidence were amassed before an alleged monitored buy of C$4,000 (US$3,600; euro2,815) worth of ammonium nitrate fertilizer last Friday.
Laviolette said it was doubtful that Chand got advanced explosives training for anything more than tossing a grenade or firing the assault rifle.
"It's unlikely because of the time he was on leave of absence," she said. "I'm not saying it's impossible. It's very unlikely."
The purported plot to take political leaders hostage and behead them added a chilling dimension to a case that has led U.S. authorities to toughen security along the border and unsettled Canada's Muslim community of 750,000 people.
Other defense attorneys declined to discuss the detailed charges and said they were not being given enough access to their clients. They also said they were not being allowed to pray together and that their religious dietary needs were being ignored.
Officials say they expect more arrests, and intelligence agents are probing whether the men had any ties to Islamic terror cells in the United States and five nations in Europe and Asia.
The Ontario Court of Justice released details of the charges Monday, which said the suspects faced charges that included participating in a terrorist group, importing weapons and planning a bombing. The specific details were made public Tuesday.
A U.S. law enforcement official said investigators were looking for connections between those detained in Canada and suspected Islamic militants held in the U.S., Britain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Denmark and Sweden.
Police in Britain announced Wednesday they had arrested a 21-year-old man and a 16-year-old youth as terrorist suspects. The BBC reported that the arrests were connected to the alleged terrorist plot in Canada, but Scotland Yard declined to confirm the connection.
"We don't comment on anything or anyone that has a case pending," said a Scotland Yard spokeswoman who declined to give her name in line with a departmental policy.
The U.S. Border Patrol, meanwhile, has put agents on high alert along the 4,000-mile (6,400-kilometer) border and stepped up inspections of traffic from Canada.
Some American commentators and politicians have accused Canada of having a lax immigration policy and suggested building a fence along the border. But Harper told Parliament on Tuesday most Americans admire Canada for "our shared concern about the security of this continent."
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday that his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had called to congratulate Canada for the arrests of the suspects.
"It's a good sign, an example of the necessary co-operation in the fight against international terrorism," MacKay said in Ottawa "Terrorism doesn't recognize borders."
MacKay added he is working with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to fight accusations by some U.S. politicians that Canada has become a haven for extremists.
"This example in Toronto on the weekend is proof of the real efforts Canada is making against terrorism," he said.