Canada Arrests 17 in Alleged Bombing Plot

Canada has arrested 17 people who were allegedly planning to carry out bomb attacks in southern Ontario. Steve Inskeep talks to Mike McDonnell of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about the case.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

By the time they were arrested in Canada, 17 people had more explosives than were used in the Oklahoma City bombing. The 17 suspects face terrorism charges. And according to The Toronto Star, tons of those explosives were delivered in a sting operation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This morning we've called Mike McDonell, Royal Canadian Mounted Police assistant commissioner. Good morning, sir.

Commissioner MIKE MCDONELL (Assistant Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police): Good morning, how are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing okay. I understand you've been investigating this group for months. Why move now?

Commissioner MCDONELL: It got to the point, Steve, that we felt, for public safety, it was necessary to arrest them. We've, as you mentioned, been investigating them for some while, and it got to the point that we can no longer control the risk.

INSKEEP: And what is known about these 17 people? Who are they?

Commissioner MCDONELL: They are Canadians who were targeting - involved in criminal activity - terrorist activity, targeting other Canadians.

INSKEEP: And I'd like to get just a little more clear on that. When you say Canadians, do you mean natural-born Canadians?

Commissioner MCDONELL: I mean Canadians. With our privacy act, we can't get into whether they were resident Canadians or born Canadians. But suffice to say, they've all been in Canada a long time and the majority were born in Canada.

INSKEEP: How does it add to the challenges that you face that you need not only monitor recent immigrants, but people who are actually citizens if you're worried about this kind of activity?

Commissioner MCDONELL: Well, actually, we don't monitor recent immigrants and we don't monitor the citizens. What we're always looking for are indications of criminality and we pursue that. We don't - this is not a police state, so we don't monitor - certainly don't monitor Canadian citizens, and we don't monitor immigrants, period.

INSKEEP: Let me rephrase it, if I might, what does it mean that you need not only look in immigrant communities, you might have to look further?

Commissioner MCDONELL: Well, we're looking all the time. In my 30 years of policing, I haven't worked in a community yet without some level of criminality. So we're - and we practice community policing. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and our partners and agencies here in Canada practice community policing. So the community is the eyes and ears of the police force.

My father explained to me, as a retired police officer, that you're only as good as the people you're working for. So we rely on our community for a lot of our information.

INSKEEP: Now these 17 people, according to The Los Angeles Times, were arrested as part of a much wider investigation. The L.A. Times is quoting what's described as a senior U.S. law enforcement official saying there are connections between these 17 and Islamist militants in other locations, including the United States, Bangladesh, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, on and on.

Commissioner MCDONELL: Yes, we're not commenting on the intricacies of the investigation at this point. There's still some material evidence that has to go before the courts, so that inhibits us from speaking further about it. What I can say is that we are working with and sharing our information with our allied countries.

INSKEEP: Are you able to say at least that this is part of a wider investigation that stretches into other countries?

Commissioner MCDONELL: I can say that, yes.

INSKEEP: Were these 17 acting on their own, or on the orders of someone somewhere else?

Commissioner MCDONELL: No they were - investigation to date, we've termed it al-Qaida inspired, but not linked.

INSKEEP: Should the United States draw any message from these arrests as it considers its own border security and reviewing its own immigration laws?

Commissioner MCDONELL: I think the message here is that we're all vulnerable to terrorist attack, that they're continuing to threaten us, collectively, on our continent, and that only by working together and sharing the information will we prevent an attack on our continent. I firmly believe we, collectively, remain vulnerable because we're open and free societies, and that we have to work together to protect our citizens.

INSKEEP: Mr. McDonell, thanks very much.

Commissioner MCDONELL: No, thank you. Take Care.

INSKEEP: Mike McDonell is assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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