Friday, September 4, 2009

Toronto 18 member pleads in bomb plot

Saad Khalid is shown in this 2004 high school yearbook photo.

A young Mississauga man has pleaded guilty to intending to cause an explosion, the first time a member of the so-called Toronto 18 group has admitted the existence of a bomb plot.

At a trial last year of a co-accused, prosecutors alleged some of the group's members were planning to bomb sites such as the Toronto Stock Exchange, RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, the Pickering nuclear power plant and the Toronto offices of Canada's spy agency, located next to the CN Tower.

In an unexpected move, Saad Khalid, 22, entered his plea on Monday.

But Justice Bruce Durno banned publication of the plea until late yesterday, when it was lifted after submissions by three media groups, including the Toronto Star.

"While Saad Khalid entered a guilty plea, no agreed statement of facts was entered or admitted and there has been no finding of guilt or conviction," wrote Durno in his ruling yesterday, which prohibits identifying Khalid's co-accused.

Khalid was among 14 adults charged with four youths during a massive police sweep in the summer of 2006 that garnered international headlines. Charges against three youths and four adults have since been stayed.

One youth was convicted last fall of belonging to a terrorist group and attending a December 2005 camp in Washago, Ont. The trial for the remaining adults is expected to begin sometime next year.

Khalid was charged with knowingly participating in a terrorist group, receiving training for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a terrorist group and doing anything with "intent to cause an explosion of an explosive substance that was likely to cause serious bodily harm or death."

He pleaded guilty to the last count. Khalid's lawyer, Russell Silverstein, said yesterday he anticipates the other two counts against his client will be withdrawn.

The change in plea came after much discussion with Crown prosecutors, said Silverstein, adding it will be up to them to call Khalid as a witness in the case against the nine adults.

"The reasons for Mr. Khalid's decision to plead now are his own," said Silverstein. "As in most cases of this nature, sometimes pleading guilty is the best way to ensure a just result."

Central to the Crown's case against this homegrown terror cell are two alleged conspiracies: that some members attended a terrorist training camp, and that some purchased three tonnes of ammonium nitrate destined for truck bombs.

During the trial of the youth, who will be sentenced as an adult on May 22, court heard many of the group's members met for the first time at a jihadist training camp. Despite being without proper camping gear, and bone-chilling temperatures, they participated in military drills and firearms training, and listened to speeches exhorting them to wage war on the West.

By March 2006, the alleged ringleaders – one of whom was from Scarborough and the other from Mississauga – had a falling-out.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that after this rift in the group each ringleader pushed ahead with developing his own band of warriors. The Mississauga leader pushed ahead with developing a bomb plot.

Court heard he visited a Mississauga library to research the fertilizer ammonium nitrate, destined for truck bombs.

During the trial of the youth, who had no involvement in the bomb plot, prosecutors showed a video they say showed the Mississauga ringleader in his home triggering a remote-controlled detonator with a cellphone. They also alleged a bomb-making manual was found there.

On June 2, 2006, an undercover police agent facilitated the purchase of the fertilizer. Investigators set up a sting operation, replacing it with an inert substance, and swooped in to make the arrests.

A sentencing hearing for Khalid is scheduled for June 22.

Prior to that, prosecutors, defence counsel and lawyers for the media will be back in court on June 16 arguing whether the case against Khalid can be published without the fair trial rights of his co-accused being prejudiced.