Plot suspects appear in court

Security was tight in Brampton, Ont., on Saturday as court appearances began for 15 of the 17 people arrested and accused of planning a series of attacks against targets in southern Ontario.

Security was tight in Brampton, Ont., on Saturday as court appearances began for 15 of the 17 people arrested and accused of planning a series of attacks against targets in southern Ontario.

In all, 12 men and five youths were arrested on Friday. Officials have alleged they were supporters of al-Qaeda.

Shackled in legand handcuffs during their court appearances, the 15 were remanded into police custody and will appear again in court on Tuesday — along with the other two accused — for a bail hearing.

While the Canadian Press said only two of the accused had their charges read out to them, Justice of the Peace John Farnum told the court that "the charges as read are virtually the same, so they will apply to all parties."

The charges allege that the men knowingly participated in a terrorist group and either received or provided terrorist training in Toronto, nearby Mississauga, Fort Erie and Ramara Township, located on the shores of Lake Simcoe in central Ontario's cottage county.

Some family members of the accused were seen in court crying and consoling each other.

The RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and Toronto-area law enforcement agency officials were among those providing details of the arrests earlier in the day.

"This group holds a real and serious intent," RCMP Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell told reporters.

"Our investigation prevented the assembly of any bombs and attacks from being carried out," he said.

McDonell said Canada "is not immune to the threat of terrorism," but declined to answer questions about the intended targets. However, he said Toronto's public transit system was not one of them.

Bill Blair,Toronto's police chief, told CBC News that officials had gathered information about dates chosen for the attacks, but he, too, refused to provide details.

Ammonium nitrate seized

Police also said they seized about three tonnes of the commonly used fertilizer ammonium nitrate. Just one-third of that amount of ammonium nitrate was used in the bombing of a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people in 1995.

Officers fanned out across the Toronto area to make the arrests. They later delivered the suspects to the Durham Regional Police Station in Pickering, east of Toronto. Police officers stood guard on the street and around the building, many holding their weapons in plain sight.

All of the suspects are residents of Canada and most are Canadian citizens of various backgrounds, officials said.

"Our information is that they participated in training all together," McDonell said.

"For various reasons, they appear to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaeda," said Luc Portelance, assistant director of operations for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Record number of arrests

This was the largest counter-terrorism operation and the greatest number of arrests made in Canada since the Anti-terrorism Act came into effect in December 2001.

"We are a target because of who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity and our values," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Ottawa.

"Their alleged target was Canada: Canadian institutions, the Canadian economy, the Canadian people."

Harper also praised the agencies involved in identifying and arresting the suspects.

"Today, Canada's securityand intelligence measures worked," Harper.

"The good news is that the RCMP and CSIS and the Toronto police were aware of it, were monitoring it, and were able to apprehend the people involved before they acted," Toronto Mayor David Miller told CBC News.

Miller said he had been briefed "for a number of months" about the investigation.

"I was extremely concerned about the potential existence of this organization," he said.