Three men have been charged with being part of a domestic terrorist conspiracy, in which one group member allegedly possessed explosive devices and was in contact with a terrorist group linked to the Afghanistan conflict.
Mounties seized 50 electronic circuit boards during raids on Wednesday which they say could be used as remote-control triggers for bombs. Police also say one of the men was trained overseas to make explosive booby traps.
Hiva Alizadeh, 30, appeared in an Ottawa court today following police raids and arrests on Wednesday. Mr. Alizadeh is charged with terror conspiracy, having terrorist explosive devices, and terrorist fundraising.
Misbahuddin Ahmed, 26, an Ottawa X-ray technician, and Khurram Syed Sher, 28, of London and a medical graduate from Montreal's McGill University, are charged with being part of a terrorist conspiracy.
The RCMP and CSIS said on Thursday that they had monitored the group for a year as part of Project Samosa.
Throughout that year, there was "a varying degree of imminence of attack," police and CSIS said.
Wednesday's raids were conducted to prevent the group from sending money to terror groups in Afghanistan, police said.
Police allege the group members were making circuit boards desiged to remotely detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Police allege all three conspired with an additional three named individuals to "knowingly facilitate terrorist activities" -- named yesterday as James Lara, Rizgar Alizadeh and Zakaria Mamosta -- and other persons at home and "in Iran, Afghanistan, Dubai and Pakistan".
Mr. Alizadeh is also charged with making or having "an explosive substance" with the intent to endanger life or cause serious damage to property.
The Mounties said that besides the electronic circuit boards, officers seized "a vast quantity of terrorist literature and instructional material ... showing that the suspects had the intent to construct an explosive device for terrorist purposes."
"This group posed a real and serious threat to the citizens of the National Capital Region and Canada's national security," said RCMP Chief Superintendent Serge Therriault.
Police refused to name the targets, saying those would be revealed during court proceedings.
When asked about the arrest on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was "not my place" to comment on police investigations.
Speaking in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., he added: "Unfortunately, this incident does serve to remind us that Canada does face some very real threats in the troubled world in which we live."
For the moment, Mr. Alizadeh is a man of mystery, but seems to be the most significant of three suspects arrested following a sweeping counterterrorism probe. Though he is well known to police after months of investigation and surveillance, Mr. Alizadeh's own lawyers say they know hardly anything about him yet.
The Globe has confirmed Mr. Alizadeh spent two years at Red River Community College in Winnipeg over the last decade, dropping out of his program both times.
In 2008-09 he was enrolled in a diploma program in electrical engineering, and in 2003-04 studied English as an additional language, according to college spokesman Colin Fast.
Prosecutors accuse him of being a driving force behind a nascent al-Qaeda-linked bomb plot. Asked whether the plot posed an imminent threat to Canadian lives, one Crown lawyer said outside court: "Imminent is open to interpretation."
But David McKercher, a veteran terrorism prosecutor, added he could not go into further details.
Mr. Sher auditioned in Montreal for season six of the television show Canadian Idol. In a YouTube video of the 2008 audition, Mr. Sher sings a rendition of Avril Lavigne's Complicated and tells judges he's from Pakistan and has been in Canada since 2005.
Commenters on the video who claim to know the suspect say Mr. Sher auditioned as a joke.
One commenter said Dr. Sher was born and raised in Montreal, is a father and a doctor at a Montreal hospital. He now lives in the southern Ontario city of London.
Another commenter says the man is her uncle, loves hockey and is "cool."
Dr. Sher's next-door-neighbour, who asked not to be named, said the man seemed "very friendly and very nice." She said he's lived next door for approximately a month, and that she met him face-to-face two weeks ago, while she was unloading groceries from her car.
She says he came over to introduce himself and mentioned that his wife and baby would be joining him in London soon.
"I am very surprised," she said. "This is a wonderful neighbourhood. He seemed to be very friendly. I just can't believe it."
Dr. Chantal Bernard, Pathology Program Director for residency training at McGill University, said the Dr. Sher she knows did all his medical training and residency at McGill, including medical school. He was not trained in another country, she says. "He did all his training under the umbrella of McGill."
"Everyone here is quite in shock and surprised," she said.
She was hesitant to say much more about Dr. Sher until she could confirm that he was the same person arrested Thursday.
Counterterrorism authorities say that the year-long investigation that led to charges against the men is no laughing matter, suggesting the most key suspects may have travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to develop ties to al-Qaeda-linked terrorists overseas.
Thursday's court appearance by Mr. Alizadeh and Mr. Ahmed lasted only a few minutes, just enough time to set a date for a Sept. 1 remand hearing.
Defence lawyers were provided with copies of a secret Crown synopsis outlining their alleged links to the plot.
The lead Crown lawyer, Mr. McKercher, successfully prosecuted Canada's first Anti-Terrorism Act case. Ottawa terrorist Momin Khawaja, a Pakistani-born Ottawa computer programmer, became radicalized on international travels to the United Kingdom and Pakistan. In 2004 police stormed his suburban home to discover him building detonators for a fertilizer bomb.
The new case would seem to bear great resemblance to the Khawaja prosecution, which yielded the first conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act that Canada's Parliament passed in 2001.
Outside court Thursday, defence lawyers said they are only now getting to know their clients after the previous day's busts.
"We're just getting to meet him for the time," said Sean May, acting for Mr. Alizadeh. "He seems to be taking the matter seriously. He's very concerned about it. He's been charged with some serious offences."
The lawyer said he couldn't say whether his client had a family or a job.
Mr. May did say he is undaunted by the fact he is going up against a veteran team of Crown prosecutors.
"I've been practising for 22 years, I've done lots of high profile cases, we've got a solid firm of criminal lawyers," he said.
However Mr. May did acknowledge that "terrorism charges are the most serious charges you can face except for a murder charge."
With files from John Ibbitson, Natalie Stechyson and Tenille Bonoguore