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Canadian convicted in Britain bomb plot

A Canadian man who was the first person charged under the country's post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law was found guilty Wednesday of ties to a group that plotted to bomb British sites.
Canada Bomb Plot
An Ottawa police officer watches as Momin Khawaja, second from right, is escorted from the courthouse after being found guilty of five terrorism charges on Wednesday.Sean Kilpatrick / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Canadian man who was the first person charged under the country's post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law was found guilty Wednesday of ties to a group that plotted to bomb British buildings and natural gas lines.

Momin Khawaja's case is considered to be the first major test of the new laws.

The 29-year-old Khawaja, a second-generation Pakistan-Canadian born in Ottawa, was accused of collaborating with a group of British citizens of Pakistani descent in the 2004 plan to attack London's Ministry of Sound nightclub, a shopping center and electrical and gas facilities in Britain.

"Momin Khawaja was aware of the group's purposes, and whether he considered them terrorism or not, he assisted the group in many ways in the pursuit of its terrorist objective," Justice Douglas Rutherford wrote in his judgment.

"It matters not whether any terrorist activity was actually carried out."

Prosecutors painted him as an extremist who, along with conspirators in Britain, was determined to wreak havoc.

Defense: Partial victory
Though he pleaded not guilty to all charges, his lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, acknowledged that Khawaja created a remote-control device for setting off explosives. But Greenspon insisted it was meant for use against military targets in Afghanistan — not for a homemade fertilizer bomb being constructed by the plotters in London. He said the plotters never let Khawaja in on their plans to mount attacks in Britain.

Five co-conspirators were convicted in London last year and jailed for life.

Rutherford convicted Khawaja on five charges of financing and facilitating terrorism. Rutherford also found him guilty on two criminal charges related to the remote-control device, but not guilty to the terrorism portions of those charges because there was no direct evidence that Khawaja knew the device was to be used in attacks, or that he had direct knowledge of the plot.

Greenspon called the ruling a victory, saying the charges on which Khawaja was convicted were the less serious ones.

"The prosecution fundamentally was directed at his involvement in the London bombing. The judge has acquitted him on that," Greenspon said.

Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto professor and national-security expert, said Greenspon's claim of victory is spin.

"The reality is that this was a defeat for his client. His client faces life imprisonment. His client is a convicted terrorist," Wark said.

Khawaja is to be sentenced next month and could face life in prison.

Informant's testimony
The prosecution's key witness, Mohammed Babar, a former al-Qaida operative turned police informant, testified that Khawaja attended a training camp in Pakistan in 2003. He also claimed Khawaja acted as a courier to deliver money and supplies and discussed various potential operations.

Canada's anti-terror law was ushered in following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The law was used two years ago to charge 18 individuals in an unrelated alleged conspiracy to bomb targets in Toronto. But most of those cases are still before the courts.

The first suspect to go to trial in that case was found guilty last month of participating in military exercises and firearms training. The man — who was peripherally involved in the case — was the first person to be found guilty of a terrorist offense in Canada since the country enacted the anti-terrorism laws.

The arrests of the 18 group members, 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.