A young Canadian man was found guilty Thursday of knowingly participating in a group that was accused of plotting to storm Canada's Parliament and behead the prime minister.
Superior Court Justice John Sproat ruled that evidence of a terrorist group was "overwhelming." The man is the first person to be found guilty of a terrorist offense in Canada since the country enacted anti-terrorism laws in 2001.
The defendant has not been identified because he was 17, a legal minor, when he was arrested in 2006. He is now 20.
His mother wept quietly in the back of the court as the 94-page judgment was handed down.
The man was one of 18 people arrested in the case. Prosecutors said the plot included plans to truck-bomb nuclear power plants and a building housing Canada's spy service.
Prosecutors argued he attended a training camp where he participated in military exercises and firearms training and that he knowingly participated in a potentially deadly conspiracy. He had pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges.
Defense said he was clueless
The suspect's attorney maintained that the plot was a "jihadi fantasy" the accused knew nothing about.
The judge rejected that defense.
"He clearly understood the camp was for terrorist purposes," he said.
The defense, with the help of the prosecution's star witness, had cast the plot as "musings and fantasies" with no possibility of being carried out.
Sproat however said few would have believed the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. were a possibility before they happened.
"I'm satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that a terrorist group existed," Sproat said.
Sproat rejected defense arguments that two camps organized by the alleged ringleaders were simply a religious retreat or recreational in nature. "Apparently benign activities may be used to identify and indoctrinate recruits," he said.
Sproat noted that participants marched, played paintball games, shot a handgun and heard lectures on waging war against the West. He also called the young man an "acolyte" of the "charismatic" ringleader.
Evidence was clear the youth listened carefully to his mentor, the plot's ringleader, and wanted to please him, and therefore understood what the camps were about, the judge said.
"He had a full appreciation of the nature of the terrorist group," Sproat said.
Star witness spied on cell
The prosecution's star witness, Mubin Shaikh, infiltrated and spied on the alleged terror cell members before their arrests. Shaikh is a former Canadian army cadet and Islamic activist.
Defense lawyer Mitchell Chernovsky had noted that even Shaikh testified the accused was unaware of a plot. Shaikh said outside court that the youth should not have been found guilty.
The arrests of the group, known as the "Toronto 18," made headlines around the world and heightened fears in Canada, where people believe they are relatively immune from terrorist strikes.
Seven of those arrested have since had their charges either withdrawn, or stayed, which means the charges will not proceed until there is further notice from the court.
The trials of 10 adults, including those accused of leading the plot, have yet to begin.