RCMP charge Kingston youth with terrorism-related offences over alleged bomb plot

RCMP charge Kingston youth with terrorism-related offences over alleged bomb plot

The youth, whose gender was not released, has been charged with knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity; and counselling a person to deliver, place, discharge or detonate an explosive with intent to cause death or serious bodily injury.

The police say no actual device was ever planted.

“There was no specific target identified,” said Supt. Peter Lambertucci, who is in charge of the RCMP’s national-security enforcement team, at a news conference in Kingston on Friday.

“There was an attack plan, which is what led to our disruption yesterday.”

Lambertucci said they were tipped by the FBI that the accused was involved in the manufacturing of “homemade improvised explosive devices.”

Investigators confirmed that during a search of the youth’s home, he said, adding a potentially explosive substance was removed from the home and blown up to neutralize it.

“There were elements and trace elements but I’m not prepared to speak on that with regard to the ongoing investigation,” Lambertucci said.

When asked if there was any reason for Canadians to worry, Lambertucci said “we believe we have extinguished that threat.”

The RCMP said a second person, an adult man, has also been arrested but has not been charged.

That man is 20-year-old Hussam Eddin Alzahabi, according to his father Amin Alzahabi. He was unsure what was happening.

“I want to know where he is,” Amin Alzahabi told The Canadian Press on Thursday at his Kingston home.

He said he has not spoken with his son, and that he doesn’t know where he is.

Alzahabi told the Star’s Alex Ballingall on Friday afternoon that the police were currently at their home, and that they “want to talk to us about Hussam.”

The family came to Canada about two years ago after fleeing war-torn Damascus for Kuwait. Their home in Syria has been destroyed. The father was once imprisoned for not joining the ruling political party and would be vulnerable to arrest and severe retaliation should he and the family return home, according to one of the churches that sponsored the refugee family.

Bronek Korczynski, who co-chaired the sponsorship committee, said he and other members of the four churches that brought the family to Canada were shocked by news of the younger Alzahabi’s arrest.

“Even though our sponsorship ended last July, many of us in the group have maintained relationships with the family — meaningful relationships — and this is just a real body blow,” he said. “We’re just gobsmacked by this. It’s so out of whack with the family we’ve come to know and care for.”

Korczynski said he’d been at a meeting with Kingston police and RCMP on Friday morning, alongside other community leaders. Officers wanted to ensure the leaders had the answers they needed, and were able to continue providing services to the family and the broader community.

“It was very much an opportunity to say, ‘What can the community do to make sure that this doesn’t become an incident that unjustifiably targets any ethnic group, national group, religious group?’ ” he said.

He added that Alzahabi has both a younger and an older sibling, both of whom are dedicated to their education.

One possibility for not charging the second man could be that he’s co-operating, or will potentially co-operate, with the ongoing investigation, one expert told the Star’s Jacques Gallant.

“So they don’t want to burn that individual, in the sense that they want to be able to leverage his insights into the broader plot if you will, and so that is crucial, it’s valuable for law enforcement agencies,” said Kamran Bokhari, national security and foreign policy specialist with the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute.

“And of course they may not be sure. . . . They could still be getting more information. So they’re leaving room between potential co-operation and the fact that they just don’t know to what degree this second individual is involved in the (alleged) plot.”

No other countries were involved in the alleged plot, and the FBI did not tell the RCMP about any U.S. connection, Lambertucci said.

The RCMP said there was an evacuation at a Kingston residence Friday morning involving precursor bomb-making substances and that the Kingston bomb squad was involved to detonate that substance.

Diane Smith-Merrill, who lives across the street from that Kingston home on Macdonnell St., told the Star’s May Warren that she heard sounds of a small explosion nearby Friday morning.

Christian Matte, a Queen’s university student was sitting inside the house across the street with his roommate Thursday when “we saw lights come on and there was already like 30 cops on the street, they all got out of their cars.”

Matte said the raid happened around 4 p.m. and there was “a plane flying over at night for the last few days.”

“It’s usually pretty quiet around here,” Matte said.

The RCMP said both accused are Kingston residents and are friends who travelled together. Both were involved from the beginning of the investigation and arrested on the same probable grounds.

The FBI, Kingston police, OPP, Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada all took part. The RCMP said as many as 300 people were involved in the investigation.

Asked if this was a “lone wolf” plot or if the accused had ties to a larger group, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale refused to delve into the details of the case.

“At this stage, the investigation is just beginning. As of this morning one set of charges were laid,”Goodale told reporters in Edmonton.

“The process is just too early to speculate,” Goodale added. “But police and security agencies are very clear that the situation has been neutralized, and under control, and Canadians can be confident in Kingston and elsewhere across the country that they are indeed safe and secure.”

There has been no change to Canada’s threat level, Goodale said in an emailed statement to the Star on Thursday.

“Taking all relevant information into account, the official threat level for Canada remains at ‘medium,’ where it has stood since the fall of 2014,” Goodale said.

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said this incident underscores the “critical importance” of having strong anti-terrorism laws and appropriate penalties for those found guilty of breaking them.

“It is also clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined,” Scheer said. “We’ve recently learned of several examples of dangerous individuals entering the country due in part to lax screening procedures.”

With files from The Canadian Press, May Warren, Alex Boutilier and Alex Ballingall

Jan. 25, 2019 — Editor’s note: This story has been updated from a previous version to delete a photo from a police investigation in Kingston, Ont., due to provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act which forbids anything that could identify a youth who has been charged.

Patrick Ho is a rewrite editor working on the Star’s digital desk in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @patrick_ho_007

Stefanie Marotta is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @StefanieMarotta

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