For some, basketball and barbecues in Toronto's bland suburbs were favorite pastimes. One was a doctor's son who had finished college, another struggled with a string of short-lived jobs.
At some point, it appears, the men came under the sway of an older, embittered militant. Coming from three continents and diverse backgrounds, the 17 Muslim Canadians now stand accused of a terror plot that would have convulsed their adopted country.
Five of the suspects are minors; no information about them has been released. The others range in age from 19 to 43, some born in Canada and others abroad. Their families -- mostly middle-class -- come from Egypt, Somalia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago.
According to court documents, the alleged plot envisioned bombings of targets in Ontario, storming of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. headquarters, and capturing -- and possibly beheading -- the prime minister and other politicians to enforce a demand for the release of Muslim prisoners and withdrawal of Canada's 2,300 troops from Afghanistan.
Many questions remain about who led the group, and how well-trained and organized it was. But the oldest suspect, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, stands out thus far as the one mostly clearly linked by acquaintances to strident political views.
The 43-year-old Jamal, a father of three, was active at the Al-Rahman Islamic Center, a storefront mosque attended by at least six of the other suspects in Mississauga, a heavily immigrant suburb of 700,000 just west of Toronto.
One fellow mosque member, Sam Lela, said Jamal was a goodhearted man, quick to offer help to others. Those he reached out to included young men who neighbors saw coming and going from his town house at odd hours.
"He was very active associating with the young fellows," said Faheem Bukhari, a director of the Mississauga Muslim Community Center, "He was teaching them intolerance."
Bukhari recalled one Friday service at the mosque when Jamal took the microphone and asserted that Canadian forces were going to Afghanistan to rape Muslim women.
At another point, Bukhari said he was at the mosque encouraging people to register to vote when Jamal confronted him.
"He came up to me and said this is all forbidden -- it is un-Islamic to take part in an election and we don't want to be any part of this society," Bukhari said. "It was so hateful."
The Mississauga mosque is sandwiched between The Cafe Khan, which offers kabobs, and a convenience store. Mohammed Jan works at the cafe and said several suspects often came in for snacks after prayers.
"They just seemed normal," Jan said.
Jerry Tavares, who lives two doors down from Jamal's home, said Jamal moved into the middle-class town house complex about four years ago and was unfriendly, rarely interacting with neighbors.
Another of the prominent suspects, Steven Vikash Chand, lived on the east side of Toronto, working at a modest shawarma restaurant in the Scarborough area. The spotlight fell on him this week when his lawyer revealed that Chand had allegedly discussed beheading Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Chand, 25, was born to a Hindu family from Sri Lanka, but recently converted to Islam and is also known as Abdul Shakur. Alone among the suspects, Chand had served in a military reserve unit, the Toronto-based Royal Regiment of Canada.
A military spokeswoman, Cmdr. Denise Laviolette, said Chand was a unit member from mid-2000 through April 2004, but "spent a large portion of his time on leave of absence." She said he may have received some training with an automatic rifle, but not with heavier weapons.
For most of the other suspects, the personal details that have emerged seem largely benign.
Asad Ansari, 21, lived with his large family in Mississauga a two-story brick house with a two-car garage. Neighbors said he often played basketball outside, and joined the family for backyard barbecues.
Fahim Ahmad, 21, played in weekly basketball games at his mosque in Scarborough. Shareef Abdelhaleen, 30, is a computer programmer, whose father, an engineer, came to Canada from Egypt 20 years ago. Ahmad Mustafa Ghany, 21, is a health sciences graduate from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, the son of a doctor who emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago four decades ago.
At least two of the younger suspects, Zakaria Amara, 20, and Jahmaal James, 23, were married; James met his wife on a recent trip to Pakistan.
Two suspects were in jail when the others were arrested last weekend; they were convicted last year of smuggling weapons into Canada from the United States.
Both men, Mohammed Dirie, 22, and Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24, came to Canada as boys, brought by families who sought more stability than violence-wracked Somalia could offer.
Dirie was interviewed by the Toronto Star in 2003, when -- after a frustrating string of temporary jobs -- he was learning carpentry, looking forward to college and taking steps to gain citizenship.
"Life was very stressful for me. ...I was totally lost," he told The Star. "Now I'm on the right track."
By David Crary, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)