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Kingston man says terror arrests over alleged bomb plot are ‘just allegations’

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KINGSTON—Hussam Alzahabi said he was at work near his home Thursday when suddenly police swarmed around him, yelling, and telling him that he was under arrest.

The 20-year-old says he was handcuffed and taken to the Kingston police station on Division Street, where he was held overnight in a cell.

At the same time, a teenager, whose gender was not released by police — Alzahabi said he was male — was 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. He cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Asked how he knew the minor who’s been charged, Alzahabi said he is “just a friend” and a former classmate.

“There was some accusation that I work for some terrorist group,” he said, sitting on a brown sofa in his family’s living room after his release from custody Friday afternoon. He looked tired. His father, Amin, sat on a flowered couch across from him and said he wanted his son to talk, so the public would know what happened and hear his perspective.

Investigators have not identified a specific target for the alleged plot and no bomb was ever planted, Lambertucci said.

But one individual was “believed to be building a homemade improvised explosive device,” said RCMP Cpl. Caroline Duval.

Labertucci said investigators confirmed that fact during a search of the teenager’s home, adding a potentially explosive substance was removed from the home and blown up Friday morning by the Kingston bomb squad.

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

On Friday night, back home with his family, Alzahabi said he met the youth at school.

He said he was communicating with him, but said they didn’t do anything wrong, calling the arrests “just a misunderstanding” and “just accusations.”

Asked if the minor spoke about bombs, Alzahabi said he “talked a lot about that.” But Alzahabi said he never took him seriously and told him it was a bad idea to talk about things like that.

Now, back at his family’s home on a quiet residential Kingston street, he’s “worried about what will happen in the future.”

“Not for me, but for the whole Syrian people, because they will be affected,” he said.

The police still have his phone and laptops and are still investigating him, he added.

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.

They’ve been in Kingston for about one-and-a-half years, Alzahabi said.

Alzahabi said the police at the division treated him well, and gave him a sweater because he was cold.

Without laying charges, RCMP were required to release Alzahabi 24 hours after arrest, police said.

As Alzahabi described his last 24 hours, his father, Amin, looked on protectively. After Alzahabi went to bed, his father was eager to speak more about how he says his family was treated by officers who came to their home.

With the help of his younger son to translate, he expressed his outrage at how he says they stormed into his home and terrified his family.

He said he was shaken by the way officers, who he said were not wearing uniforms, rushed into his house with their guns and saw his wife without her hijab and stepped on the prayer mats, both of which, he said, are very upsetting to people of Muslim faith.

The RCMP said they started their investigation as soon as they received the tip from the FBI. Over the last few weeks, Kingston residents had started complaining over social media about the sounds of a low-flying plane, buzzing over their homes at night.

At the Friday news conference, Lambertucci confirmed the plane was part of the investigation and identified it as a Pilatus PC-12 turboprop operated by the RCMP.

Bronek Korczynski, who co-chaired the church committee behind the sponsorship, said he and other members of the four churches that brought the family to Canada were shocked by news of Hussam 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.

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

Diane Smith-Merrill, who lives across the street from one of the Kingston homes raided Thursday, told the Star she heard sounds of a small explosion nearby early Friday morning.

“I shot right up out of bed,” she said.

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 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 (is) 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.

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said the 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.”

A senior national-security policing veteran warned against jumping to conclusions.

“We live in a fear-based society, that’s for sure. It’s partially a media construct and partially police and senior bureaucrats and politicians trying to get everyone afraid of ‘The Other.’

“Yes, there are some bad people out there,” said the officer. “I’m more concerned about some guy going crazy just because his girlfriend hurt his feelings than I am about some Syrian refugee kicking off.

“The world is changing and everyone’s afraid, but I just don’t think it should be the priority that it is.”

With files from The Canadian Press, Alex Boutilier, Alex Ballingall and Stephanie Marotta, Jacques Gallant, Mitch Potter and Moira Welsh

May Warren is a Toronto Star reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @maywarren11

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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