TORONTO - Canadian authorities said Saturday they had foiled plans for terrorist attacks in southern Ontario with the arrests of 17 people who were "inspired by al-Qaida."
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they had arrested 12 male adults and five youths on terrorism-related charges, including plotting attacks with explosives on Canadian targets. The suspects were either citizens or residents of Canada and had trained together, they said.
"This group took steps to acquire three tons of ammonium nitrate and other components necessary to create explosive devices," said assistant Royal Canadian Mounted Police commissioner Mike McDonell.
That is three times the amount used to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, he said, referring to the April 19, 1995, attack that killed 168 people and injured more than 800.
"The men arrested yesterday are Canadian residents from a variety of backgrounds. For various reasons, they appeared to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaida," said Luc Portelance, the assistant director of operations with CSIS - Canada's spy agency.
However, he said, there did not appear to be any direct link to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
Officials showed evidence of bomb making materials - including a cell phone-bomb detonator - a computer hard drive, camouflage uniforms and what appeared to be a door with bullet holes in it at a news conference Saturday.
The arrests were made Friday and about 400 officers were involved in the operation.
Heavily armed police ringed the Durham Regional Police Station in the city of Pickering, just east of Toronto, as the suspects were brought in late Friday night in unmarked cars driven into an underground garage.
The Toronto Star reported Saturday that Canadian youths in their teens and 20s, upset at the treatment of Muslims worldwide, were among those arrested.
The newspaper said they had trained at a camp north of Toronto and had plotted to attack the Canadian spy agency's downtown Toronto office, among other targets in Ontario province.
In March 2004, Ottawa software developer Mohammad Momin Khawaja became the first Canadian charged under the country's Anti-Terrorism Act. Khawaja was also named, but not charged, in Britain for playing a role in a foiled bomb plot. He is being held in an Ottawa detention center, awaiting trial.
The Canadian anti-terrorism law was passed swiftly following the Sept. 11 assaults, particularly after bin-Laden named Canada as one of five so-called Christian nations that should be targeted for terror attacks.
The other four countries, reaffirmed in 2004 by his al-Qaida network, were the United States, Britain, Spain and Australian, all of which have been targeted in terrorist attacks.
The anti-terrorism law permits the government to brand individuals and organizations as terrorists and gives police the power to make preventive arrests of people suspected of planning attacks.
Though many view Canada as an unassuming neutral nation that has skirted terrorist attacks, it has suffered its share of aggression, including the 1985 Air India bombing, in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian citizens.
Intelligence officials suspect at least 50 terror groups now have some presence in the North American nation and have long complained that the country's immigration laws and border security are too weak to weed out potential terrorists.