An Ottawa man who was the first person to be charged under Canada's anti-terrorism laws for allegedly participating in a plot to bomb targets in Britain was found guilty on seven counts by an Ontario judge on Wednesday.
Mohammad Momin Khawaja, 29, was found guilty in a packed Ottawa courtroom by Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Rutherford on five charges of financing and facilitating terrorism and two Criminal Code offences related to building a remote-control device that could trigger bombs.
The terrorism charges against Khawaja were the first laid under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act introduced in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but the guilty verdict is the second conviction under the act.
Khawaja was accused of scheming to set off fertilizer bombs in England in 2004. In particular, the software developer built a remote-control device to trigger the explosions, which were never carried out, his trial heard.
He pleaded not guilty to all charges and was tried by judge alone.
Rutherford said proof that Khawaja was working actively with the London group could be found in the evidence, which included intercepted e-mails, a trip for training in Pakistan and money transfers.
"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," Rutherford wrote in his judgment. "It matters not whether any terrorist activity was actually carried out."
Reasonable doubt Khawaja knew details of plot
Rutherford also noted the Crown had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Khawaja knew the exact details of a plot to bomb British buildings and natural gas lines when he built the remote-control device that has become known as the Hi-Fi Digimonster.
Since the Criminal Code charges could not be linked to a terrorism plot during the trial, the sentence associated with them could be more lenient.
Rutherford took almost a month to consider the arguments that had been put forward during the trial and to write his 58-pages of reasons.
Khawaja, who has already spent almost four years in jail, will be sentenced on Nov. 18. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Lawrence Greenspon, Khawaja's lawyer, called the ruling a victory.
"He was acquitted of the London bombing — that's my reaction," Greenspon said. "It's terrific. It's what we set out to do. That's what the prosecution was intending to do — they were intending to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in the London terrorist bombing — and he's been acquitted of that charge."
Khawaja was arrested in Ottawa four years ago as part of a joint British-Canadian investigation in which nine men were taken into custody. Khawaja was working as a software developer for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department at the time and was the only one of the nine to be arrested in Canada.
Five co-conspirators convicted
Five of his alleged co-conspirators, including bomb-plot ringleader Omar Khyam, were convicted in 2007 by a British court and sentenced to life in prison.
During Khawaja's trial, Crown prosecutors noted that during the raid on Khawaja's home, RCMP found a remote-control device that was capable of triggering explosions. British officials had information that suggested Khawaja met with his alleged co-conspirators and discussed remote-control technology with them.
A Crown witness in the trial, which began in Ottawa in June, also testified that Khawaja participated in a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in 2003 and delivered supplies to various operations.
Greenspon had argued his client was training in Pakistan because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan, not participate in a bomb plot in the United Kingdom.
An attempt by Greenspon to have the charges against Khawaja quashed because of a lack of evidence was rejected by Rutherford last month.
At the time, the judge said prosecutors had presented enough evidence to find Khawaja guilty on "any or all of the counts" brought against him.
Major test of Anti-terrorism Act
Khawaja's case has been considered one of the first major tests of the Anti-terrorism Act.
Before the verdict was delivered, Wesley Wark, a security analyst and University of Toronto historian said that Rutherford had a burden on his shoulder to "not only prove that whatever his verdict is going to be is a fair one but to prove that it's a clear verdict and to prove that the judicial system worked well and fairly in this case."
In September, a 20-year-old man, whose identity is protected by the Criminal Youth Justice Act, was convicted under the act in Toronto of conspiring in a group plot to bomb several Canadian targets, including Parliament Hill, RCMP headquarters and nuclear power plants.
He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The man was among a total of 18 arrested in the summer of 2006 in connection to the alleged conspiracy. Charges against several have been dropped, but 10 are awaiting trial.