Remaining six alleged Toronto 18 members face trials in 2010 on terror charges
TORONTO — The case of Canada's notorious homegrown terror plot enters a significant phase in 2010 with the trials upcoming for the final six alleged members, accused of attending a training camp and plotting to bomb various targets.
The prosecution of the so-called Toronto 18 seemed on shaky ground at the start of this year, with seven people no longer facing charges and one conviction of a youth characterized as a peripheral member.
"Some people, I think on the basis of that set of events, leapt to the conclusion that maybe the government's case was falling apart, maybe there wasn't a serious plot here at all," said security and intelligence expert Wesley Wark.
But then came four surprise guilty pleas in fairly quick succession, with each of the young men admitting to roles in the plot to detonate bombs outside the Toronto Stock Exchange and CSIS headquarters, as well as an unnamed Ontario military base in 2006.
What Wark found unexpected was not that some of the 18 people arrested would plead or eventually be found guilty, but the facts that they admitted to in court.
"The thing that did surprise me was simply some of the details that emerged about the seriousness about the plot itself and the seeming capabilities of some of the key individuals involved," said the professor at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.
Video evidence made public in October shows the dancing wires of a cellphone bomb detonator on a tape made by Zakaria Amara, 24, a leader of the plot who pleaded guilty.
The RCMP also made a video demonstrating the massive destructive power of what kind of damage a truck bomb using one tonne of ammonium nitrate could do. Saad Gaya, 22, and Saad Khalid, 23, who have pleaded guilty, were arrested unloading bags labelled "ammonium nitrate" from a truck driven by an undercover police officer.
Court heard Amara planned to rent U-Haul trucks, pack them with explosives and detonate them via remote control in downtown Toronto. Amara also planned to put metal chips in bombs to exact more casualties in what they called the "Battle of Toronto."
The goal of the planned destruction and carnage was to pressure Canada to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Gaya told police in his post-arrest interview.
The judge in the youth's case, in handing down his ruling, said there clearly was a homegrown Islamic terrorist cell bent on wreaking havoc and bloodshed in Canada.
The Crown has alleged some of the men held a terrorism training camp north of Toronto and that others were involved in the bomb plot.
One of the remaining men is expected to have his trial by judge in January, while the other five men's case is expected to be put in front of a jury starting in March.
The guilty pleas and the outcome of the first man's trial will have absolutely no bearing on the last five men's case, said lawyer William Naylor, who represents the man who will stand trial in January.
"The people that are going to get tried, their case has nothing to do with the people who pleaded guilty," Naylor said.
"The outcome of Mr. Gaya, Mr. Khalid, Mr. Amara and my client has nothing whatsoever to do with the remaining accused."
The fact that those five men have elected trial by jury is breaking new ground. This is the first time an Anti-Terrorism Act case will be tried by a jury, Wark said.
"This will be something new, to see how juries are selected, how juries respond to the evidence, what the outcome of jury trials might be when it comes to terrorism offences," he said.
How those found guilty of such offences are sentenced and what credit is given for time already served should also become clearer in 2010.
The youth walked free after being sentenced to 2 1/2 years due to time served. Khalid was sentenced to 14 years, with seven years' credit for time served, though the government is appealing the sentence.
Ali Dirie, 26, was sentenced to seven years, with five years' credit for time served. Gaya and Amara are expected to be sentenced in January. No one has yet been sentenced to life in prison, the maximum sentence under the anti-terror law.
All of the six men awaiting trial have been in custody since their arrests in June 2006, except for one, who was granted bail in August.