Police arrest 19 in terror probe
Date: Saturday, August 23 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
A man enrolled in a flight school where training involves flying over the Pickering nuclear power plant is one of 19 people being held in a Toronto-area jail while federal officers investigate possible links to terrorist groups.
Police from several forces acting in partnership with Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducted pre-dawn raids throughout the Toronto area last week, arresting some of the men on alleged immigration violations while others are now being held without any charges being laid but as a possible "threat to national security." RCMP, Toronto, Halton, York and OPP officers carried out the arrests.
Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the federal government can detain without charges any landed immigrant or foreign national who is considered to be a threat to national security.
"I can confirm that we were part of the arrests last Thursday. We arrested 19 people, but all in an assist to Immigration," RCMP spokesperson Michelle Paradis said last night. An immigration official confirmed the arrests but had no further comment.
Most of those arrested were students or refugee claimants and all were born in Pakistan.
Officers with the multi-jurisdictional Public Security and Anti-Terrorism unit (PSAT) claimed it was a pattern of behaviour of a larger "group" that authorities held to be suspicious, according to a four-page summary outlining "the reasons for detention" and dated Aug. 19. It was submitted at the detention review hearings this week and obtained by The Star.
"PSAT officers determined that based on the structure of this group, their associations and connected events, there is a reasonable suspicion that these persons pose a threat to national security," the document states.
A defence lawyer for two of the detained men said what is provided in court as "reasonable suspicion" is innuendo.
"All 19 of them, not just my two clients, are being held on such flimsy evidence that if it was presented in a court of law it would be found as a joke," lawyer Mohammed Syed said last night. "Some are being held without any charges under the Immigration Act or any other act for that matter."
The arrests followed a seven-month investigation called "Project Thread."
According to the document, one man raised suspicion because he is currently taking commercial pilot lessons to qualify as a multi-engine commercial pilot. His flight path for training purposes flies over the Pickering nuclear power plant.
"He often brings with him an unknown male as a passenger. His instructors have described him as an unmotivated student," the document states. "The average timeframe for qualification is approximately one year. The target has been training in Canada for almost three years."
Two more "associates of the group" were deemed suspicious when Durham Region police found them outside the gates of the Pickering station on an April, 2002 morning.
"They requested that they be allowed to enter the perimeter in order to go for a walk on the beach," the document states.
A "confirmed associate of the group" provided an offer of employment from the Global Relief Foundation Inc. a group the United Nations has identified as a fundraising group for terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda the document states. One of the men under investigation resides with that individual, the document says.
The document also cites Sunni extremism, stating that the men are from, "or have connections to the Punjab province in Pakistan that is noted for Sunni extremism."
An aunt of two of the detained men called the allegations ludicrous and balked at the fact that her nephews were being held on suspicion alone.
"Pakistan only has four provinces. I don't see how being from one of them makes you a terrorist," she said in an interview last night.
"Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? They're holding them because they're from one country and they're Muslim so therefore they have to be terrorists."
"I'm Canadian-born Pakistani and I never thought something like this would happen in Canada."
The summary says the "cataloguing and review of the three van loads of evidence by the RCMP and Canadian Immigration officers is ongoing."
The document also evokes Sept. 11 saying there were several "tips" called into the the RCMP after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that cited "strange behaviour" at one of the addresses involved.
The document also states:
"It is known that the subjects have associates that have access to nuclear gauges." They are commonly used in construction but contain a small amount of cesium-137, a possible ingredient for a dirty bomb.
At least two apartments where subjects lived had "unexplained fires." In one case, the apartment's fire alarm was disconnected prior to the fire.
One residence is reported to have airplane schematics and picture of guns on the wall.
The investigation started in February when a citizenship and immigration visa officer became suspicious about a student who was applying for a permanent resident status.
The officer contacted the anti-terrorism unit when she was unable to verify the applicant was a student at the Ottawa Business College, as he purported to be on his application.
He also had a bank balance with more than $40,000 but no "identifiable source of income."
Police began investigating the Ottawa school and 31 people the larger group identified by officials who were allegedly discovered to have fraudulently received permits to enter or remain in Canada, according to the document.
During a search of the school, almost 400 student files were seized.
"The investigation proved that the Ottawa Business College was not a legitimate school. Foreign students and others could purchase acceptance letters, transcripts and diplomas for a fee without ever attending classes," the document states.
Most of the group members, all male, are between 18 and 33 and many have given false documents to citizenship officials, the document says.
The majority claim to be students, the document continues, but few are actively pursuing academic goals.
They have "engaged in acts to mislead Citizenship and Immigration" by presenting false documents involving the Ottawa Business College in an effort to extend their student visas.
All but one in the group have connections to the Punjab province in Pakistan "that is noted for Sunni extremism. Some appear to have attended the same university programs during the same period of time."
Although the majority of the group entered Canada as students they are not studying or "engaging in them in what can only be called a dilatory manner."
Many have travelled to other countries while maintaining temporary resident status.
The detained "appear to reside in clusters of 4 or 5" and "change residents in clusters.
The residences kept a "minimal standard of living." The documents notes that most homes or apartments had on a mattress and computer. One "cluster left an apartment during the night and discarded all of their belongings: mattresses, clothing and computer shells, apparently taking only the computer hard drive upon vacating the apartment."