Monday, January 11, 2010



Crown says Shareef Abdelhaleem hoped to reap windfall from attack on the Toronto Stock Exchange

It's alleged he was the money man, a behind-the-scenes operator who drove a convertible BMW around town while his much younger accomplices bummed rides and took buses as they plotted detonating truck bombs in downtown Toronto.

When the trial of Shareef Abdelhaleem begins in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom Monday morning, the Canadian public will be introduced to a new kind of terrorism suspect: An educated and affluent thirtysomething entrepreneur – born in the Middle East but raised in Canada – who allegedly saw an opportunity to profit from the chaos he would cause.

Until now, a publication ban has shielded this facet of the so-called Toronto 18 conspiracy, the scheme to cause carnage on the streets of Canada's most populous city that was derailed by a series of arrests in 2006. It's alleged that Mr. Abdelhaleem was a key player, and was particularly fixated with blowing up the Toronto Stock Exchange building in a bid “to affect the economy, to make it lose half a trillion dollars,” according to Crown allegations.

The case against him, according to police, includes a recording of him describing the al-Qaeda-inspired plot. This included detonating a two-tonne fertilizer bomb that was to be built in hopes of destroying the TSE building and the three blocks around it.

Mr. Abdelhaleem allegedly said he would short-sell stocks ahead of the bombing, to reap a windfall that could be used to fund more terror attacks in cities like Chicago and New York.

Mr. Abdelhaleem allegedly confided these grand plans to a kindred spirit, a fellow Arab-Canadian entrepreneur, who had a money-making scheme of his own. That confidant, Shaher Elsohemy, was packing a wire during their frequent meetings at Chinese buffet restaurants and Second Cup coffee shops. Posing as a co-conspirator, he was actually working as a paid police agent.

In fact, Mr. Elsohemy was negotiating a multimillion-dollar deal with RCMP to disappear after gathering the key evidence needed to facilitate a police sting that would thwart the scheme.

By presenting himself as a man who could purchase the necessary bomb chemicals for the group, his transactions were the catalyst that triggered the massive police roundups.

Mr. Abdelhaleem – the only bomb suspect who had direct dealings with Mr. Elsohemy – still asserts his innocence, arguing that police set a trap for him.

“Most of the conversations aren't contentious, no,” defence lawyer William Naylor, said in an interview last week. He said he plans to argue that an abuse of process took place against his client. “I allege that he was entrapped.”

This tale of friendship and betrayal, with its subtext of the economics of terrorism and counterterrorism, was concealed by a pre-trial ban on publication of the evidence that was lifted this month, as a judge severed his case from the other outstanding cases.

A decade older, better educated and far better off than most his co-conspirators, Mr. Abdelhaleem doesn't fit the profile of the teenagers and twentysomethings convicted to date.

The five men found guilty so far were youthful Web-indoctrinated radicals, university students or recent high-school graduates working dead-end jobs. Mr. Abdelhaleem was a self-employed computer programmer who commanded a six-figure salary and drove a BMW with leather seats. He grew up in Canada, having emigrated with his family 20 years before.

After the police roundup, most of the 18 accused were charged with attending an amateurish training camp, but Mr. Abdelhaleem stands accused of being one of the few core conspirators. According to evidence in the trials that have ended in guilty verdicts, a small splinter cell separated from the training-camp group, with a plan to bomb Toronto and force Canada's soldiers out of Afghanistan.

This subgroup's three accused, all 20 or younger at the time of the arrests, pleaded guilty last fall. According to a statement of facts agreed to by these other bomb-plot accused, the group's targets included a military base outside of Toronto and the Toronto offices of CSIS, the Canadian spy-service.

The same document alleges Mr. Abdelhaleem allegedly pinned his hopes on a third target: the TSE.

“The explosion itself will have a secondary explosion from all the cars around it,” he allegedly told his friend, the police agent.

Mr. Elsohemy will testify for the first time at the trial. No court has seen him since he disappeared 31/2 years ago.

When put on the stand, as early as today, he is expected to discuss meetings with Mr. Abdelhaleem. Envelopes stuffed with wads of cash for the purchase of explosive chemicals were allegedly exchanged over these dinners.

The defence may seize on the unprecedented $4-million deal the Mounties granted Mr. Elsohemy – an amount that rivals the RCMP's entire annual budget for the federal witness-protection program, which safeguards dozens of Canadian agents and informants.

More than any other of the Toronto terrorism trials, the Abdelhaleem affair is expected to yield the best insights into the cat-and-mouse game between police and those suspected of being homegrown terrorists.