Shortly after arriving at a winter campsite in Washago, Ont., more than four years ago, Asad Ansari saw a black flag overlaid with white Arabic script.
Under cross-examination by Crown attorney Jason Wakely Wednesday, Ansari, who stands accused of participating in a terrorist group, admitted he knew similar flags were frequently used as symbols of violent jihad — but says he never made the connection while at the camp.
"That thought didn't cross my mind at the time," Ansari said, noting he believed the flag to be a holy Islamic symbol.
He admitted he had seen similar flags "in the news . . . mainly (in) stories about terrorism."
Asked whether he was aware of this connection in late 2005, when he attended the camp, Ansari said he was, adding the symbol had been "co-opted by violent jihadists."
Ansari contends he never knew the Washago camp was intended as a terrorist training ground for the "Toronto 18," a group of alleged terror plotters who were rounded up in a police sting in the spring of 2006.
Rather, he has told the court, he believed he was simply attending a winter camping trip with friends.
When he saw the flag, Ansari testified: "(I did not say) whoa, I'm at a terrorist training camp."
Earlier Wednesday, the jury heard a series of intercepted phone calls between Ansari and Toronto 18 ringleader Fahim Ahmad, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges last week.
The Crown alleges the homegrown terror cell recruited Ansari for his technical savvy, but the defence maintains he knew nothing of the plot to attack targets in Toronto and Ottawa when he agreed to work on Ahmad's computer in early 2006.
Star Crown witness Mubin Shaikh has testified that Ansari told him he intentionally deleted a video of the Washago camp — in which participants can be seen shooting guns and wrestling, with Arabic chanting overlaid as a soundtrack — from Ahmad's computer, in addition to deleting MSN chat logs.
Defence lawyer John Norris asked his client whether he had ever spoken to Shaikh about the nature of his work on Ahmad's computer.
"I did not," Ansari replied.
The defence contends Ansari was repairing Ahmad's computer, which had become infected with malicious software, as a favour to his friend.
In one of the intercepted phone calls, Ansari and Ahmad discuss a file called "firefight" on Ahmad's computer. The file contained text about "urban guerrilla warfare," Ansari told the court.
"Where did you get it from?" Ansari asks Ahmad during the call.
"Uh, you know," Ahmad responds, later adding it is from "their own site."
Ansari told the jury he did not know what Ahmad meant by that.
Ansari, 25, and Steven Chand, 29, are the remaining two to be tried in the Toronto 18 case. It is the first time terrorism charges will be tested by a Canadian jury.