A Canadian man accused of participating in military exercises and firearms training as part of a group authorities say plotted to storm Parliament and behead the prime minister was found guilty Thursday.
The man's attorney says the plot was a "jihadi fantasy" and that his client knew nothing about it.
A judge ruled Thursday that evidence of a terrorist group was "overwhelming." The man is the first person to be found guilty of a terrorist offense in Canada since the country enacted anti-terrorism laws in 2001.
The arrests of the 18 group members, known as the "Toronto 18," made headlines around the world and heightened fears in Canada, where people believe they are relatively immune from terrorist strikes.
Prosecutors said there were plans to truck-bomb nuclear power plants and a building housing Canada's spy service.
Seven of those arrested have since had their charges either withdrawn, or stayed. The trials of 10 adults, including the alleged ringleaders, have yet to begin. The young man was the first to go on trial.
Superior Court Justice John Sproat found the man guilty of knowingly participating in a terrorist group. As the 94-page judgment was handed down, the defendant's mother wept quietly in the back of the court.
The man has not been identified because he was 17, a legal minor, when he was arrested in 2006. He is now 20.
Prosecutors argued he attended a training camp where he participated in military exercises and firearms training and that he knowingly participated in a potentially deadly conspiracy. He had pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges.
Sproat rejected the defense argument that the plot was a "jihadi fantasy" that the defendant knew nothing about.
"He clearly understood the camp was for terrorist purposes," he said.The defense had cast the plot as "musings and fantasies" with no possibility of being carried out.
"It might well have been said prior to Sept. 11, 2001 that a plan to kill thousands and destroy landmark buildings in lower Manhattan and Washington had no possibility of implementation," Sproat said.
Sproat rejected defense arguments that two camps organized by the alleged ringleaders were simply a religious retreat or recreational in nature. "Apparently benign activities may be used to identify and indoctrinate recruits," he said.
Sproat called the young man an "acolyte" of the "charismatic" ringleader. Evidence was clear the youth listened carefully to his mentor, the plot's ringleader, and wanted to please him, and therefore understood what the camps were about, the judge said.
Defense lawyer Mitchell Chernovsky said it's hard to know what sentence will be imposed but said his client was involved peripherally and doesn't have a criminal record.
He faces a maximum 10-year sentence.
Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto professor and national-security expert, said the guilty verdict is the first test of Canada's anti-terrorism legislation and that it shows its a tough law.
"You can be convicted for terrorism even if nothing particular happens as a result of a plot, even if the plot looks amateurish, even if you didn't fully know the details of the conspiracy you were a part of," he said.1 The prosecution's star witness, Mubin Shaikh, infiltrated and spied on the alleged terror cell members before their arrests. Shaikh is a former Canadian army cadet.
Shaikh said outside court that the youth should not have been found guilty. Shaikh called the man a "naive Muslim kid who fell into the wrong circle of Muslim kids."
"I don't believe he's a terrorist," Shaikh said.
Shaikh, however, was happy the judge found his testimony about the alleged ringleaders credible. Shaikh received about $300,000 for infiltrating the group.
Sproat noted that the defense did not make any suggestion that the payments influenced Shaikh's evidence. Sproat said he found Shaikh to be a truthful and reliable witness, a development that doesn't bode well for the adults in their trials.
"I've been telling the truth since day 1," Shaikh said. "I'm very happy that the judge validated that and confirmed that. That will carry through to the remaining adult trials."
Ohhh yeah, it all looks very innocent to me. I mean everyone has a Black Flag...right?
The NEFA Foundation has obtained exclusive footage of a would-be "terrorist training camp" that took place near Washago, Ontario, in a rural section of Canada in 2006. The camp, directed by CSIS confidential informant Mubin Shaikh, included members of the alleged “Toronto 18” terror cell, who are accused of conspiring to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack in southern Ontario, including plans for truck bombings and storming local buildings such as the Canadian Parliament and the headquarters of the CSIS. The video features footage of the men receiving instruction on the use of handguns, sniper tactics, and basic calisthenics. Crudely edited by its creators to include nasheed music, the video also shows the men practicing evasive driving maneuvers at night in an abandoned parking lot.