heft-mohammedrobert060615

Mohammed Robert Heft is hoping to open a new Islamic centre and residence for Muslim men and women. ((CBC))

A Toronto-area man who knew some of the 17 people charged in connection with an alleged bomb plot in Ontario says one had some fairly extreme views.

Mohammed Robert Heft claims Faheem Ahmad thought the Sept. 11, 2001,attacks on New York and Washington were a good thing for Islam.

Three of the 17 suspects facing terrorism-related charges will be in a Brampton, Ont., courthouse on Friday. They cannot be named because they are under the age of 18.

Evidence presented today in court cannot be made public because of a publication ban.

Heft converted to Islam in his twenties.He says he fell briefly into a radical religious mindset but then regained his perspective.That's when he started helping troubled Muslims at a Scarborough, Ont.,shelter.

bombplot-courtroom060607

Alleged bomb-plot suspects in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom during a recent appearance. (John Mantha/CBC)

He says he knows five of the suspects facing terrorism-related charges, some of whom came to the shelter.He never heard any of them advocate violence against Canadians, but he says he had a long and disturbing debate with Ahmad, 21,two months ago outside of a Scarborough mosque.

"He believed the 19 people involved in the World Trade Center bombings were martyrs and he was handing out DVDs openly of wills and testimonies of those 19 people suggesting what they did was right," said Heft.

But Heft has a different impression of another of the suspects, 25-year-old Stephen Chand, whom he describes as quiet and not at all political.

"I felt no threat from Steven Chand.This alleged [threatof] beheading of the prime minister sounds like a Hollywood movie to me."

Heft says a lot of young Muslims are angry and extremism is prevalent in the Toronto area. They get upset when they hear of alleged atrocities overseas in places like Iraq.

"People get emotional.Imagine if somebody came into your house and raped your family, or by mistake just blew up your family, you'd get a little angry.

"I mean we get angry ... when the water isn't hot in Canada or we lose our electricity for a day. So imagine what these people overseas are going through."

Heft knows personally about the road to religious extremism. He says when he was in the thick of it, he would have killed his own parents had they come between him and his newly chosen religion.

He blames the spread of extremism on the internet and what he calls "do-it-yourself Islam," where uneducated scholars are bending the peaceful word of the Koran to suit their violent ideology.

"For the last two years I've been involved in this mentality.I was dealing with it on a grassroots level.All it takes is a little education and sorting out who to take religion from."

Heft is hoping to open a new Islamic centre and residence for Muslim men and women. The idea is to help troubled young people and get those who have become radical back on track.

He says the problem of extremism is something the Muslim community has to face up to and solve itself.