*** Just because Fahim & others could not possibly have successfully stormed parliament, lopped off Mr. Harper's head & declare a fantasy Islamic State from the Speaker's Chair - he & his bomb-plot partner, Zakaria WANTED so many people to die (Islamic quote: "Actions are by their intentions") and that is what they should be measured against.
They would have been overjoyed at the prospect of shards of glass flying through the air and cutting down the innocent - at the idea of blood and panic everywhere - at the subsequent harm and damage that would have come to Canada and Canadians - and for that reason alone, they deserve far worse than they will get. MS ***
Whether the “Toronto 18” would have followed through on their chilling mandate to execute the most devastating act of terrorism ever to occur on Canadian soil — or whether they were simply a ragtag bunch of amateurs enthralled by a big talker, Fahim Ahmad, and a charismatic radical, Zakaria Amara — is a question that will forever hang in the balance as the lengthy case draws to a close.
Certainly, their plot was sufficiently alarming to warrant the country’s largest terrorism prosecution to date, a complex, multi-million-dollar, four-year saga that laid bare the group’s desire to realize what one expert describes as “Canada’s 9/11”: a series of explosions to demolish entire city blocks in the heart of downtown Toronto, and leave a nation shell-shocked.
On Friday, as the jury trying the two remaining suspects retired to decide their fate, star Crown witness Mubin Shaikh was watching, and waiting. For years, he infiltrated the terror cell from the inside and then spent countless hours on the stand, pulling the events apart thread by thread, in a process as cumulatively shocking as it was tedious.
On Saturday, as Mr. Shaikh considers penning a book on the saga and completes a degree in policing intelligence and counterterrorism, he dismissed as “laughable” the idea that the Toronto 18 could have carried out their ambitious plot, which included beheading the Prime Minister and broadcasting victory over public radio.
“Given the lack of know-how, the lack of weapons, the lack of preparation, training, all that stuff, it is not possible that this group could have successfully stormed Parliament and lopped off the Prime Minister’s head,” Mr. Shaikh suggested, speaking inside the Brampton courthouse where Asad Ansari, alleged to be a minor player in the group, and Steven Chand, who faces charges of participating in the terror cell and counselling fraud for its benefit, awaited their final verdict.
“Fahim was a big talker more than he was a doer. That is the reality,” Mr. Shaikh said.
Wesley Wark, a security specialist at the University of Toronto, begs to differ: “The ringleaders were capable and serious and that is all that mattered. Homegrown terrorism is amateur by definition; this does not lessen the threat.” (MS: Which is actually exactly what I said but you know reporters...)
Indeed, Ahmad has been linked to a network of terrorists overseas, including Britain’s Aabid Khan, an avid al-Qaeda supporter who recruited young Muslims and arranged their passage to Pakistan for terrorist training. Ahmad and Khan reportedly met in an online chat room, where they discussed getting paramilitary training for a growing number of recruits through Lashkar-e- Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Yet plans fell through, and Ahmad ultimately joined forces with Amara to begin molding a homegrown terror cell.
CSIS and the RCMP took the threat seriously. Gilles Michaud, the RCMP’s assistant commissioner and head of national security criminal investigations, says at the case’s peak, more than 200 people were assigned to the Toronto 18 probe, with funding and manpower pulled from other units.
Mr. Michaud sees the case as a game-changer, one that demonstrated the legitimate threat of terrorism on Canadian soil. It is not an entreaty for the public to be fearful, he says, but rather to be vigilant.
“It happens in Canada. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and think that there’s no threat in Canada,” Mr. Michaud said.
“We cannot also bury our heads in the sand and say, ‘Well, if there is one, the police and the service will get them.’ To think that way would be careless.”
Though the Toronto 18 moniker has stuck, the group could more accurately be described as the Toronto 11, since charges against seven of the accused were dropped early in the process.
Gavin Cameron, an expert on terrorism and security issues at the University of Calgary, says the group was comprised of “concentric rings” of members, the outer of which were only peripherally involved. He calls the initial 2006 sweep an exercise of due caution.
“It’s not something that is terribly comfortable in terms of what it says about individual liberties, but this is a situation where you really don’t want to have people wandering around who you think may be involved in terrorist activities,” Mr. Cameron said.
As the layers have been peeled back in the courtroom, the public has gained glimpses of a horrific plot fuelled by a group of primarily immature extremists who pulled pranks on one another, sniffed cocaine and smoked pot, and argued with girlfriends in the midst of a terrorist training camp in the dead of winter in Washago, where they simulated combat with paintball guns and staged phony videos of shooting a rifle.
It was in the confines of that camp that Ahmad delivered his now infamous “fall of Rome” speech, in which he called for the defeat of the western world. He began the speech by joking about how hungry he was after two weeks of camping, and how “weird” it would be to shower at home.
“The impression that one occasionally had as the evidence came out was that this actually wasn’t a terribly serious group,” Mr. Cameron noted.
As months passed, however, the plot appeared to pick up steam. The group splintered into two factions, one focused on storming Parliament, the other fixated on bombing Toronto. Amara built a test detonator, a prototype for truck bombs that would target the Toronto Stock Exchange, a CSIS site on Front Street and a military base.
The group also ordered several tonnes of ammonium nitrate through undercover police agent Shaher Elsohemy, and on the date of delivery, as Saad Khalid and Saad Gaya unloaded what they believed was the chemical from a delivery truck, police swept in.
It is difficult to assess what may have happened without police intervention, which curtailed planning at an early stage, Mr. Cameron said, noting the group’s aspirations may have exceeded their abilities.
“If the full attack had gone exactly as intended, I think you would be looking at Canada’s 9/11,” he said. “But whether this was a group that was capable of operationalizing the attack on the scale and with the sophistication that they aspired to do is a completely different question.”