Truck-Bomb Plot Drives Debate on Canada's Muslims

The arrest of 12 Muslim men and five teens in an apparent plot to attack the nation's stock exchange and spy agency shocks Canadians. The nation's fabled tolerance may enable support for radical Islam. Many Muslims see a danger.

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Some politicians in Canada are describing this week as their country's version of 9/11, a wake-up call that domestic Islamic terrorism could be a serious threat.

Seventeen Muslim men and boys are charged with plotting a massive terror campaign, and more details of the plot continue to emerge. As North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, Canada's Muslim community is supporting new efforts to root out militants.

BRIAN MANN reporting:

Outside a convenience store in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, a group of middle school student, Muslim and non-Muslim, are debating how well Muslims are fitting in to Canadian society.

Unidentified Student #1: Well, I don't think there should be any, like, hatred between, like, the two, the two groups.

Unidentified Student #2: So many immigrants, though, you can't - they keep to themselves.

BRIAN MANN reporting:

Their disagreement echoes a furious debate in Canada provoked by the steady trickle of details about the scope and barbarity of the alleged plot. One of the suspects reportedly took flying lessons hoping to emulate the 9/11 attacks. The group is accused of planning a shooting spree on a busy Toronto street. The suspects were arrested after they allegedly tried to buy a chemical fertilizer needed to build an Oklahoma City-type bomb. The fact that all the accused grew up here shocked Canadians, who see tolerance and multi-culturalism as national values.

But Canada's openness has made the country a magnet for conservative Muslims, the vast majority entirely peaceful, who say they feel welcome here than in Great Britain and the U.S. Toronto's developed a network of conservative mosques and traditional madrasah schools, where Muslims live apart from mainstream society. Ahmed Majib Kahn[ph] is doing business between Friday prayers. He's principal at a madrasah high school on the rural outskirts of Toronto. Roughly a hundred boys live at the school and study Islamic law. Ten percent of the students come from the U.S.

Mr. AHMED MAJIB KAHN (Principal, Madrasah High School): If they catch one Muslim (unintelligible) all Muslims like that. Well, we are shocked. We are very sad.

MANN: Kahn rejects the notion that programs like his prevents young Muslims from integrating in the Canadian society and says he works hard to insulate students from radical ideas. But in the last week, many Muslim groups have come forward, acknowledging that a dangerous element has taken root in Canada.

Mr. TAREK FATAH (Founder, Muslim Canadian Congress): We don't have the luxury to not wash our dirty linen in public.

MANN: Tarek Fatah is founder of a progressive group called the Muslim Canadian Congress. He says governments have made the mistake of legitimizing conservative clerics and should spend more time working with secular leaders like himself.

Mr. FATAH: When the United States or Great Britain or Canadian institutions want to talk to Muslims, they still go to the same radical imams, sit down with them. The Chief of Toronto Police went to a mosque, sat down with about 20 old men with beards. There's not a woman in sight.

MANN: Wajid Kahn, a member of Parliament with the Liberal Party, who represents Mississauga, says last week's arrests mean the focus in Canada needs to shift from diversity to integration.

Mr. WAJID KAHN (Canadian Parliamentarian): After this recent event, I think there's a government that will be far more willing to do a lot more of that and will promote the moderate voices.

MANN: Intelligence officials here say radical Muslims are actively recruiting native-born Canadians. In addition to this alleged plot, 12 smaller terrorist schemes have been foiled over the last two years. A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police says more arrests are likely soon. For National Public Radio, I'm Brian Mann.

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