By his own admission, Toronto 18 terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem is a cokehead and a wastrel.
The last time he paid income tax (which, as far as he can remember was about seven years ago), the 34-year-old Mississauga man earned $357,000 doing freelance computer work. But, he told a Brampton court Wednesday, he spent most of that on the luxuries of life – "drinking, drugs, women."
As a teenager, he was kicked out of his home several times. He spent four years in a University of Toronto computer science program but never graduated.
Oh yes. And, as he acknowledged in court, he took part in plans to blow up buildings in downtown Toronto – all of which earned him a guilty verdict last week in this judge-only trial.
Abdelhaleem is the first of the so-called Toronto 18 terror group to testify in court. The picture he presents of himself (which jibes with the one given last week by the Crown's chief witness against him) is anything but black and white.
He is certainly no hard-eyed Islamist ideologue. Some of the 9/11 bombers were said to have adopted Western vices as a guise. Not Abdelhaleem. His vices were genuine. Well before he became involved in the bomb plot, he said, he was a druggie. On the days leading up to a serious 2006 heart operation, he continued to take cocaine even though he feared this might cause surgical complications.
After his operation and while the bomb plot was being prepared, he said, he would go on regular cocaine binges, speeding along for a few days until he crashed from exhaustion. Then he would start all over again.
He popped prescription painkillers until his doctor cut him off. The high they gave him, he told the judge, "was pretty good."
But at the same time, he was hardly an innocent. He knew about convicted bomb plot mastermind Zakaria Amara's plans to wreak havoc but didn't tell the police. "I'm not a rat. Period." he explained.
Nor did he think Amara was just playing games. As he told the court, he assumed the worst – that Amara would go through with his plans and that many would die.
In what might seem a bizarre twist of logic, he said he tried to convince Amara and fellow plotter Shaher Elsohemy (who, in the end, turned out to be an RCMP mole) to set off smaller 100-kilogram bombs rather than the one-tonne versions they were contemplating.
The reason, he told court, was that this would allow Amara to "get it out of his system" without doing too much damage.
The entrapment hearing taking place this week is to determine whether the RCMP, through its agent Elsohemy, encouraged Abdelhaleem to commit a crime.
The court has already heard that after Elsohemy became involved, the RCMP decided to move their counter-terror operations into high gear by providing the plotters not only with apparent bomb-making materials but with a place to store them. The Mounties also directed their mole to pressure the plotters into acting quickly.
On Wednesday, Abdelhaleem testified that the mole asked him to rent a house that could be used to make bombs. The defendant said he pretended to go along with the idea but had no intention of following through. As he explained, he didn't want to have his signature on a rental form for a bomb factory – he wasn't that stupid.
However, the main defence he articulated was that – except perhaps for his failure to notify police – he didn't think he was doing anything illegal. Referring to his role as the intermediary between the plot leader and the mole, he called himself a mailman ... strictly there passing messages ...
In Abdelhaleem's mind, as long as he confined himself to this middleman job, he'd be on the right side of the law. "I wasn't doing anything," he told the court. "I didn't think mere words were a crime."