RCMP charge Kingston, Ont., youth with terror-related offence after security probe
20-year-old man also arrested Thursday was later released without charge
The RCMP's national security team has arrested and charged an Ontario youth with a terrorism-related offence, the police force said Friday following an investigation in Kingston, Ont.
Police have laid two charges against the young person, who is accused of knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity and counselling another person to "deliver, place, discharge or detonate an explosive or other lethal device ... against a place of public use with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury."
The identity of the accused has been withheld by police as the person is a minor and protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
During a press conference Friday, the RCMP said it received a "credible" tip from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in late December 2018 that there were individuals in Kingston planning a terrorist attack, which led to the police raids at two homes in the area Thursday.
A source with knowledge of the investigation said the alleged terrorist activity involved a plan to use an explosive device; no specific target had yet been chosen. The accused had the intent, began acquiring the potential to create an improvised explosive device and formulated a plan, but were arrested before they had chosen a target, the source said.
"There was no specific target identified but there was an attack planned," RCMP Superintendent Peter Lambertucci told reporters. While an attack was considered imminent, the officer said there was no credible threat to the people of Kingston.
"I want to reassure the citizens of the greater Kingston, Ont., area and all Canadians that during the investigation, our primary focus was the safety and protection of the public," said Michael LeSage, a chief superintendent with the RCMP's "O" Division.
After the arrests, the RCMP found "elements" and "trace elements" of homemade improvised explosive devices in an unspecified residence. The explosive substance was later neutralized, Lambertucci said.
A second individual, an adult male CBC News has identified as Hussam Eddin Alzahabi, was also arrested Thursday but has not been charged. Alzahabi's father told CBC News that police have now released his son.
Hussam's lawyer, Mohamed El Rashidy, told CBC News that his client maintains his innocence and will continue to co-operate with the security services as the investigation unfolds.
"He's exercising his legal rights and he cares about Canada's safety as much as the next person," said El Rashidy. "He's here studying, he's doing everything that he can to be a contributing member to society and there is no reason to malign him or treat him differently than anybody else."
Lambertucci said the investigation is still ongoing. Police had 24 hours to press charges against Alzahabi or release him from custody.
The officer would not comment on the ideological motivations of the people apprehended or say if they had any ties to foreign elements.
Police described the relationship between Hussam Eddin Alzahabi and the person charged as an "informal friendship."
Earlier Friday, the father of Hussam Eddin Alzahabi said he was astounded by the arrest of his 20-year-old son.
"They tell me they search about him about terrorists. I know my son, he didn't think about that. He like Canada. He like the safety in Canada. How could he think about that?" Amin Alzahabi, who has been in Canada since 2017, told CBC News' Philip Ling in an interview from his home Friday morning.
"It's fake news about my son. I trust my son. I know he cannot do anything against any human, humanity.
"They inspected everything from my house. They didn't find anything. I think this is not good."
In carrying out the arrests, the RCMP were supported by both Kingston police and FBI officers with support from the Ontario Provincial Police, Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).
On Thursday, officers could be seen carrying bags of evidence out of the homes.
By Friday morning, the police presence was contained to just one residence.
Alzahabi said his family, originally from Syria, has been living in Canada since July 2017, following time spent in Kuwait from 2008 to 2017.
According to a bulletin posted to the website of a Kingston-area Catholic church detailing the journey of the Alzahabi family, an ecumenical group of churches helped bring them to Canada through the private sponsorship refugee program in 2016-17.
The church group established a series of committees, including a hospitality and orientation committee composed of parishioners, and raised more than $30,000 to help support the family's transition to life in Canada.
Alzahabi said he and his family came to Canada to be "liberated" and to avoid being sent back to Syria — which is still in the throes of a multi-year bloody civil war — by the Kuwaiti government.
"I want to save my family from Assad regime in Syria," he said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who's accused of perpetrating war crimes against his own people.
"I wanted to come to Canada and I [succeeded] in coming to Canada because I trust Canada. I trust this country is for the humanity ... freedom," Alzahabi said.
To that end, Amin Alzahabi said his son was completing high school upgrades at Loyalist Collegiate & Vocational Institute with the hope he could then continue his studies at a university.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said police took action Thursday "based on credible information, to ensure public safety."
The minister said the operation has not changed the country's threat level. It remains at "medium," where it has hovered since late 2014.
However, the threat was considered serious enough to involve months of investigation, thousands of hours of police work and the use of a Pilatus PC-12 RCMP surveillance plane that had been circling over Kingston in recent weeks for hours on end, creating a great deal of interest from residents due to the noise.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer commended the work of the RCMP and local police while adding the continuing terrorist threat demands strong national security legislation to help law enforcement.
Scheer also said Canada's "refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined."
"We've recently learned of several examples of dangerous individuals entering the country due in part to lax screening procedures," Scheer said.
"In 2017, as an audit of the Canada Border Services Agency reported, 39 cases did not receive the necessary security screening and therefore, potential security threats may not have been identified prior to granting admissibility. This is completely unacceptable and must be immediately remedied."
Goodale, speaking to reporters after a meeting with provincial counterparts, said Scheer's comment on bolstering the security of the refugee screening process was premature.
"Somehow he already knows or is presuming the result of a police investigation. I think it's wiser in these circumstances, rather than leaping to conclusions, that the police do their job. Let's get the facts on the table and then we'll determine the appropriate course of action," Goodale said.
With files from the CBC's Chris Hall