On the surface he appeared to be a well-respected X-ray technician who went home to his wife and child every night. But the RCMP allege that Misbahuddin Ahmed was also involved in a secret cell plotting to launch an attack inspired by the terrorist bombs unleashed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr. Ahmed's was the first name to emerge from a major anti-terror sweep led by the RCMP in Ottawa Wednesday. Another man was also arrested in the Ottawa area and one to three further arrests are expected in the coming days, security sources said.
The raids are connected to what sources say is a year-long investigation by the RCMP and CSIS into a plot that connects to senior al-Qaeda figures. Security sources described the group as dangerous radical Islamists, similar to but smaller than the so-called "Toronto 18" cell, whose ringleaders were caught building truck bombs in 2006. The new cell was not as far along in its planning, the sources said.
"They are the real deal," said one federal source, who asked not to be named.
Agents from Canada's spy service began to tighten the net around Mr. Ahmed about four months ago. Canadian spies arrived at the Ottawa Hospital's civic campus, where Mr. Ahmed had worked since moving to Ottawa from Montreal in 2008.
They spoke to the hospital's director of security, Paul Whitlock, and explained that they were conducting a national security investigation. Mr. Whitlock informed Mr. Ahmed's boss, Guy Morency, the hospital's director of diagnostic imaging. Mr. Ahmed was allowed to continue working at the hospital and was kept in the dark about the investigation, his boss said.
"It did turn on a few alarm bells," Mr. Morency said.
Mr. Morency said he was told what the CSIS were looking for and what their concerns were, but that he was assured the investigation and his employee's alleged activities never affected patient safety. He would not say whether CSIS had placed agents inside the hospital to monitor Mr. Ahmed's movements.
"I've been told by our security team that he was under surveillance and beyond that it [was related]to his association with the mosque that he deals with," Mr. Morency said. "I respect everyone's beliefs but I think it was more an affiliation with who he was hanging around with that was more of a concern, but I don't know."
Mr. Morency said Mr. Ahmed attended the Ottawa mosque on Northwestern Avenue. A volunteer at the mosque said it would be inappropriate for anyone to comment until police identify the accused.
Police swept through Mr. Ahmed's Ottawa townhouse Wednesday. They seized computers and an automobile from his home, and raided at least one other property. They also took another man into custody and promised more arrests to come.
The nation's capital had not seen such a roundup since one of Canada's first "homegrown" terrorists - Momin Khawaja - was caught building detonators in his suburban basement in 2004.
For Canada's embattled security agencies, the bust may help show that CSIS and the RMCP remain relevant in terms of fighting terrorism.
They spent more than a year on the investigation and will specify charges Thursday morning at a joint press conference while the accused make their initial court appearance under heavy security.
The roundup will add fuel to the federal government's continued insistence that Canada is not immune from the threat of terrorism.
Up to eight police cars closed in on Mr. Ahmed's suburban home Wednesday, a rented condo townhouse on Esterlawn Private in the city's West end.
Of peculiar significance to police seems to be a Mazda car that Mr. Ahmed used to commute to work.
"When it was in the driveway, they went over it with a fine tooth comb. They just swarmed over it," said Mary Surtees, a resident of the townhouse complex who saw it towed away.
"They were really on it like a dirty shirt."
Like many residents, she said she didn't get to know the family since they arrived several months ago. Prior to that, it's believed he lived in small apartment in Ottawa's Bayshore area.
That complex was also raided at 7 a.m. Wednesday, though it wasn't clear whether police had targeted a residence they believed to be still associated with Mr. Ahmed or perhaps an accomplice. One Mountie stood outside a seventh floor apartment but refused comment. Neighbours there said officers - mostly female - arrived at around 7:15 a.m. A young woman who lived across the hall - an Islamic convert who wore the hijab - expressed shock when she heard RCMP characterizations of terrorist offences.
"They're nice people," she said of the residents of the raided apartment, adding that they were a young couple with two young babies.
"They were my friends."Report Typo/Error