BRAMPTON, Ontario – One of the members of an alleged terror cell in Canada plotted to behead the prime minister, according to charges released Tuesday.
Steven Vikash Chand allegedly plotted to attack Canada's parliament, including taking political hostages and beheading Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to the details released Tuesday.
Authorities said Chand's plans were part of a larger plot to use three tons of explosives rigged with cell phone detonators in a terror campaign across the country to secure the release of Muslim prisoners from Canadian and Afghan prisons and demand the removal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.
Chand, 25, was one of 17 suspects who were led into the court in groups handcuffed at the wrist for what amounted to a brief court appearance. Charges were read against Chand and one other suspect as family members listened intently from the first three rows of seating.
"There's an allegation apparently that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada," attorney Gary Batasar said. "It's a very serious allegation. My client has said nothing about that."
Batasar spoke outside the courthouse, where bail hearings for 10 of the 17 suspects were postponed. He said the charges were based on fear-mongering by government officials.
"It appears to me that whether you're in Ottawa or Toronto or Crawford, Texas, or Washington, D.C., what is wanting to be instilled in the public is fear," he said.
The Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, a small city just west of Toronto, said Monday the suspects faced charges including participating in a terrorist group, importing weapons and planning a bombing.
Police expect more arrests and intelligence officers are probing possible ties between the Canadian suspects — 12 men and five teenagers — and Islamic terror cells in six nations, including the United States.
"We've by no means finished this investigation," Mike McDonell, deputy commissioner for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told the AP. "In fact, you might look at it that, really, we're just starting with the arrests. We have a responsibility to follow every lead."
McDonell said Monday that there are "foreign connections," but he would not elaborate.
A U.S. law enforcement official said investigators were looking for connections between those detained in Canada and suspected Islamic militants held in the United States, Britain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Denmark and Sweden.
U.S. authorities have established that two men from Georgia who were charged this year in a terrorism case had been in contact with some of the Canadian suspects via computer, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
The U.S. Border Patrol put agents on high alert along the 4,000-mile border and stepped up inspections of traffic from Canada.
A Muslim leader who knew the oldest suspect, 43-year-old Qayyum Abdul Jamal, told The Associated Press that his sermons at a local mosque were "filled with hate" against Canada.
Canadian police say there is no evidence the suspect group had ties to Al Qaeda, but describe its members as sympathetic to jihadist ideology. Officials are concerned that many of the 17 suspects were about 20 years old and had been radicalized in a short amount of time.
Officials announced Saturday that the suspects were arrested after the group acquired three tons of ammonium nitrate, which can be mixed with fuel oil to make a powerful explosive. One-third that amount was used in the deadly bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
"It came to a point where our concern for the safety and security of the public far outweighed our appetite for collecting evidence," said McDonell, the RCMP deputy commissioner.
Some people who know the suspects said they were astonished by the arrests.
But Faheem Bukhari, a director of the Mississauga Muslim Community Center, said Jamal, the oldest suspect, gave hateful, intolerant sermons to young Muslims at a storefront mosque in Mississauga, a city near Toronto where six of the suspects lived.
"These youth were very fun-loving guys, soccer-loving guys, and then all of sudden they were not associating with guys they used to," Bukhari said, referring to the younger suspects.
"People around him knew he was very extreme," Bukhari said, adding that Jamal once told "the audience that the Canadian Forces were going to Afghanistan to rape women."
Canada has about 2,300 soldiers in southern Afghanistan to bolster Afghan reconstruction and combat Taliban militants.
The adult suspects all are charged with one count of participating in a terrorist group.
Three of them — Fahim Ahmad, 21, Mohammed Dirie, 22, and Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24 — also are charged with importing weapons and ammunition for the purpose of terrorist activity.
Nine face charges of receiving training from a terrorist group, while four are charged with providing training. Six are charged with intending to cause an explosion that could cause serious bodily harm or death.
No information was released on the five teenagers due to privacy laws that protect minors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.