Thu, Jun 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Fifteen terror suspects go to court

AFP , BRAMPTON, ONTARIO

Ten men and five male teenagers, all suspected of planning attacks in Canada, ranging from bombing buildings to beheading the prime minister, appeared in court on Tuesday amid tight security.

Officials have signaled more arrests are coming linked to the alleged al-Qaeda inspired plot to attack high-profile targets in Ontario, Canada's largest province.

Stephen Vikash Chand, 25, is said to have plotted to decapitate Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to his lawyer.

"There's an allegation apparently that my client personally indicated that he wanted to behead the prime minister of Canada," defense lawyer Gary Batasar said.

An eight-page synopsis of the charges against the group said they planned to storm the Canadian parliament and take hostages to demand that Muslim prisoners be freed and that Canada withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Batasar said.

If the demands were not met they would behead the hostages and the prime minister as well, he added.

"I can live with all these threats as long as they are not from my caucus," Harper quipped to reporters in Ottawa.

There was also a plan to storm offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, to press their demands, the lawyer said.

Batasar said Chand had not discussed any of the charges, but added: "There's no basis for the allegations as far as I can see."

The suspects appeared in a small courtroom in the Toronto suburb of Brampton. Eighteen relatives of the suspects were crammed into the courtroom, which had only 40 seats. Some held back tears as the hearing went ahead.

The few who spoke to reporters said they believed the allegations would be proven false.

Seventeen suspects were arrested on Friday and Saturday. Two are already serving prison terms for arms trafficking and did not appear in court.

Heavily armed police outside kept watch on a large crowd that included dozens of young Muslim men and women with veils, some of whom said they were friends of the suspects.

Justice Maurice Hudson set bail hearings for June 12.

Batasar criticized Harper's comments welcoming the arrests of the suspects.

"The prime minister should keep out of the process and let justice take its course," he said.

Nevertheless, he said he was confident that Chand would receive a fair trial.

Another defense lawyer, Donald McLeod, said that he was concerned about the detention conditions of the suspects.

McLeod, who represents Jahmaal James, 23, complained that his client has not been given a chance to speak with his family.

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