Evidence submitted at the recent trial of a British man convicted on terrorism charges indicates he had connections to the so-called Toronto 18 group, according to court documents obtained by CBC News.
Ten people are in jail in Ontario awaiting trial, accused of belonging to a group alleged to have plotted terrorist attacks in the province, including a plan to detonate a huge fertilizer bomb in downtown Toronto. The case became known as the Toronto 18 after, in the summer of 2006, 18 Muslim-Canadian suspects were arrested in a series of dramatic police raids in and around Toronto.
Aabid Khan, a 22-year-old from Bradford, England, had information on his laptop computer that suggested he was attempting to form an international terrorist cell to stage attacks in Britain, the United States, Continental Europe and Canada that would rival the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The home base for Khan’s alleged plot was to be Toronto, according to documents prepared for Khan's trial in London.
Khan was convicted on Aug. 17 of possessing material likely to be used in a terrorist attack. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
At the time of his arrest, he possessed a large quantity of acetone, the main ingredient in the homemade bombs used in the July 7, 2005, attacks on London's transit system that killed 56 people. His laptop and 53 stored hard drives contained a virtual library of violent videos advocating jihad, or holy war, and bomb-making manuals.
At Khan’s trial at the Blackfriars Crown Court, a jury heard that his contacts eventually grew to include people from Bosnia, Denmark, Bradford, London, the U.S. city of Atlanta — and Canada.
In March 2006, court heard Khan flew to Toronto to meet his North American contacts face to face. Intelligence sources told CBC News that Khan met one of the accused in the Toronto 18 case, Fahim Ahmed, as well as a few of his associates and two U.S. recruits.
Ahmed and nine others are expected to face trial in Toronto in 2009, while charges against seven others in the Toronto 18 group have been dismissed or stayed. One member of the group, a young offender, has been convicted and is awaiting sentencing.
Planned to rent basement apartments in Toronto
In an interview with CBC News, Evan Kohlmann, a U.S. terrorism analyst who advised the prosecution at Khan’s trial, said the British police evidence shows that Khan’s plan was to rent basement apartments in Toronto where his contacts could spend a month or two bonding.
Next they would fly to Pakistan for military training in training camps connected to al-Qaeda. Once the training was completed, they would return to the basement apartments in Toronto and select their targets.
Kohlmann described Khan as an intensely religious internet nerd who began downloading stories from extremist jihadi websites when only 12 years old.
As he grew older, Kahn’s curiosity turned into hatred against the West, Kohlmann said. As early as 2001, he began using a password-protected internet chat room called Clear Guidance to troll for angry young Muslim men willing to join an international terrorism cell.
Evidence found on Khan’s computers reveal that he also found time during his eight-day stay in Toronto for romance. He fell in love with Ahmed’s sister-in-law, 19-year-old Saima Mohamed.
Khan returned to England without Mohamed, but in the weeks that followed, they carried on a passionate long-distance relationship on the internet. In hundreds of pages of internet chat records in the documents obtained by CBC News, the couple speaks of their love for each other and their mutual passion for jihad.
In a handwritten letter shown to Khan at his trial, Mohamed tells Khan she wants to become a suicide commando.
"The more I think about my goal in life, the more vivid my goals become," she writes. "Whether it is exploding prisons or freeing Muslim prisoners … let it be a martyrdom operation."
British police evidence also indicates that Mohamed offered to help Khan with the rent on the basement apartments.
Mohamed, who lives in Toronto and has spoken publicly in defence of her brother-in-law, declined repeated requests from the CBC for an interview.
But Mohamed's lawyer, Faisal Kutty, stated in a letter sent to CBC News that some of the statements attributed to Mohamed may have been taken out of context.
Kutty insisted his client simply assisted Khan in trying to find a place to stay, and also asserted some of the woman's statements were simply "the naive statements and private expressions of frustration from a youth.
"Saima categorically denies that she any knowledge of or participated in any alleged efforts or attempts to provide 'cover' to him or any of his friends," Kutty wrote.
Plans to train in Pakistan
According to records of his online chats, Khan contacted Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group with connections to al-Qaeda, to arrange military training for some of his contacts. Khan and at least two others went to Pakistan to train, but it's unclear how much time they spent there.
Gradually, however, Khan's grandiose plans began to unravel.
Some of his contacts didn't see the necessity of going to Pakistan for training and questioned why Khan was taking so long to get down to business. Khan didn’t like having his authority challenged and in one e-chat he rails against "these idiot afghanies" and goes on to say that, "Canadians are morons and idiots and a bunch of backstabbers."
By then, intelligence agencies including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the West Yorkshire Police and Interpol were on to Khan and his co-conspirators.
In fact, CSIS had been monitoring Ahmed’s chat room conversation as far back as 2002. And, in late 2003 or early 2004, when CSIS agents observed Ahmed getting involved with a very persuasive extremist in northern England, CSIS alerted the British police.
On June 2, 2006, the RCMP arrested Ahmed and 16 other people. Four days later, officers from the West Yorkshire Police nabbed Aabid Khan at Manchester International Airport as he stepped off a flight from Pakistan.