KINGSTON, Ont. - The RCMP have charged a Kingston youth with terrorism, saying the person — who cannot be identified — allegedly tried to persuade someone to plant a bomb.
A second individual, who came to Canada as a refugee, was arrested but later released without charges in the same purported plot, which has stirred up the usually sedate city on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The youth is charged with knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity and with counselling someone to use an explosive or other lethal device to cause death or serious bodily injury. The police say no actual device was ever planted.
"There was no specific target identified," said RCMP Supt. Peter Lambertucci, who is in charge of a national-security enforcement team.
But police felt they had enough information to swoop in and make the arrests Thursday.
"There was an attack plan, which is what led to our disruption yesterday," Lambertucci said during a packed news conference in Kingston on Friday.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act prevents the release of any additional information about the charged individual, who made a brief court appearance.
Amin Alzahabi, the father of Hussam Eddin Alzahabi, 20, said late Friday his son was home sleeping after being released from custody. An RCMP official confirmed he had been set free.
The elder Alzahabi spent much of the day simply trying to determine his son's whereabouts. "I want to know where he is," he said Friday morning at the door of the family's semi-detached Kingston home.
The Mounties said they had been investigating the pair since December, following a tip from the FBI in the United States. Lambertucci said Hussam Eddin Alzahabi is friends with the youth who has been charged with terrorism.
"The individual was reported to be involved in the manufacturing of homemade improvised explosive devices," Lambertucci said.
A potentially explosive substance was found during a search, removed and blown up to neutralize it, police said, but they provided no details.
Officers were seen Friday searching a Kingston bungalow linked to one of the arrests. Police cars and orange barricades barred traffic from the street.
The Alzahabi 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 in Syria and would be vulnerable to arrest and severe retaliation should he and the family return home, according to one of the churches that sponsored them as refugees.
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.
Agencies assisting the RCMP in the case include the U.S. FBI, Kingston police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the federal agency that tracks suspicious financial activities. Lambertucci said as many as 300 people have contributed to the investigation.
The effort included a small RCMP surveillance plane, whose circling over Kingston has puzzled, and sometimes annoyed, residents for weeks. The aerial support helped police keep tabs on certain addresses, Lambertucci indicated.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement the government constantly monitors all potential threats and has robust measures in place to address them.
The country's official threat level remains at "medium," where it has stood since the autumn of 2014, he added.
In a joint statement, the Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses for the Kingston area said they support the police in their investigation and pointed out that hundreds of people have been successfully settled in Canada as church-sponsored refugees after passing government screenings.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer praised the police work that led to the arrests and accused the Liberals of weakness on terrorism and running a lax refugee-screening system.
"These kinds of incidents serve to underscore the critical importance of having strong anti-terrorism laws and appropriate penalties for those found guilty of breaking them," Scheer said in a statement.
"It is also clear that Canada's refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined," he added. "We've recently learned of several examples of dangerous individuals entering the country due in part to lax screening procedures."
Scheer cited a 2017 audit of the Canada Border Services Agency that found 39 cases in which Syrian refugee claimants admitted to Canada didn't receive proper screening. The agency acknowledged the error but said a review afterward found that none of the 39 people was inadmissible.
— With files from David Reevely and Nicole Thompson