Canadian counterterrorism detectives have arrested a teenager in Kingston and accused him of conspiring to hatch a terrorist bomb plot.
RCMP Superintendent Peter Lambertucci said at a news conference on Friday that the youth, who cannot be identified by law, was arrested on Thursday and charged with facilitating a terrorist activity. He is also accused of counselling a person to deliver, place, discharge or detonate an explosive in a public place.
The officer revealed little else about the case. The youth appeared before a judge on Friday afternoon, but almost all details about what was said are covered by a court-ordered publication ban.
Supt. Lambertucci said police also arrested a 20-year-old friend of the accused. He was held for one day before being released without charges on Friday afternoon.
The courts will likely not determine the outcome of the case for several years. Police say that in recent weeks, more than 300 police and intelligence officers from across the country worked together on the investigation. They also relied on an RCMP surveillance plane that buzzed conspicuously around Kingston for weeks.
During the Friday news conference, RCMP officials said the probe began with a tip from their U.S. counterparts. Supt. Lambertucci said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation relayed news in December of a potential “attack plot” in Canada, but details were sparse.
Heavily armed police in tactical gear searched two Kingston homes on Thursday.
Police said they found trace elements of materials that could have been used in an improvised explosive device. Working late into the night, a bomb-squad “detonated what was believed to be an explosive substance in the early morning,” the RCMP said in a statement.
No information is being released about suspected targets in the alleged plot, or potential motivations. Nothing has been disclosed about any ties to terrorist groups overseas. Police said the two men who were arrested are friends, and did not indicate why one was charged and the other let go.
Supt. Lambertucci said there is no information to suggest residents of Kingston were in any danger. The police effort to preserve public safety appears to have been so pronounced that residents had been buzzing among themselves for days about the government surveillance plane running loops above the city at night.
Kingston resident Valerie Gray said she started hearing it around Jan. 10, although she could not see anything in the sky because of cloud cover. Three days later, the weather cleared, she said, and she saw what looked like a silhouette of a plane without any lights on it.
“Every five minutes, it was flying over the house,” she told The Globe and Mail on Friday.
“It never showed up on any flight trackers,” she said. “I tried contacting [the Department of National Defence] as well as [Canadian Forces Base] Trenton to see if I could get any answers from them. No luck there at all. They didn’t even respond.”
Supt. Lambertucci confirmed on Friday that RCMP “air assets” were involved in the investigation. He did not describe the capabilities of the aircraft, but said it allowed police to keep close tabs on intersections of interest.
One of the homes raided was a small red-brick house close to the city’s downtown core. Police continued to hold it under their control on Friday, with cars blocking the road.
Vanessa Macfarlane, who lives next door, said she had met the family that lives there several times. She said one resident was an adolescent boy. The family had helped her move couches, she said, and brought over food around Christmas time.
The 20-year-old was released around the time the 24-hour period in which Canadian police can hold someone without laying charges expired.
The Globe and Mail has chosen not to identify his family.
The man’s sister said in an interview with The Globe that the fact he was not charged means he has done nothing wrong and that his arrest was a mistake.
She said her mother was traumatized by Thursday’s police raid on the family home.
The family of five is from Syria originally, but the children grew up partly in Kuwait, the sister said. The released man and his family came to Canada as refugees after being privately sponsored by a group of churches in Kingston about two years ago.
The Mounties would not say why the 20-year-old was arrested and let go.
“The RCMP can confirm that the adult male arrested in relation to the national-security investigation in Kingston has been released from custody without charges,” the police force said in an e-mail. "As this is an ongoing investigation, the RCMP cannot provide further information.”
Police and prosecutors state that under Canada’s laws to protect young offenders, they will be able to say little about the case against the teenager.
“These restrictions are meant to protect young persons from the stigma of the criminal-justice system and foster their rehabilitation and reintegration into society,” Brian Gray, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General said in an e-mailed statement.