Shareef-Abdelhaleem-trial

A court artist's sketch shows Shareef Abdelhaleem. ((Alex Tavshunsky/CBC))

A man accused of being one of the conspirators in the "Toronto 18" terrorist bomb plot at first challenged the "Islamic correctness" of such acts of terrorism but became excited at the prospect of profiting financially from them, court was told Monday.

Shareef Abdelhaleem, 34, the first adult charged in the plot to stand trial, pleaded not guilty Monday to participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion. He's being tried by a judge without a jury in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom.

Shaher Elsohemy, a friend of Abdelhaleem who was paid $4.1 million to become an RCMP agent, testified that at a dinner meeting on April 8, 2006, a man who pleaded guilty to his leadership role in the plot in October revealed his plan to wreak havoc.

Elsoheny said Zakaria Amara told him and Abdelhaleem that three U-Haul vehicles would be rented and used as truck bombs, and detonated during the morning rush hour at the Toronto Stock Exchange, Canadian Security Intelligence Service headquarters in Toronto and an Ontario military base.

Abdelhaleem had an argument with Amara in which he "challenged the Islamic correctness of this action," Elsohemy testified.

But moments after raising a moral objection to Amara's plot, Abdelhaleem excitedly threw his keys on the table and declared they stood to gain financially from such an attack, saying people had made money from the financial turmoil that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, court heard.

"Shareef told me there could be money in this," Elsohemy said. "The rest of the discussion was about how to profit off an attack on the stock exchange."

Abdelhaleem had previously raised objections on religious grounds when Amara mentioned associates of his were talking about a terrorist attack in Ottawa, but also had been becoming increasingly interested in talking of jihad, Elsohemy said.

Court heard Amara had directed Abdelhaleem to procure drivers' licences and credit cards with which they could rent the trucks. He also directed Elsohemy to acquire the necessary chemicals.

Guilty plea

Amara pleaded guilty in October 2009 to knowingly participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion for the benefit of a terrorist group.

Abdelhaleem and 17 others were arrested in 2006. Of those 18 people, five had their charges dropped or stayed, four pleaded guilty, one was found guilty and five are still awaiting trial.

The Crown alleged Abdelhaleem tried to buy ingredients to make explosives and exchanged cash with Elsohemy as a down payment for ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make an explosive device.

Elsohemy testified Monday that he had been friends with Abdelhaleem and that the two had gone on holiday together in Morocco before he became an informant.

Prosecutors played three audiotapes of a conversation involving Abdelhaleem and others in the group that was obtained by investigators at a bugged gas bar. On the tapes, they discuss separating from the larger group. Abdelhaleem talked about how to break away as gently as possible.

The group also discussed concerns that their phone conversations might be being bugged by CSIS, and someone on the tape suggested they could give false information to lead the spy agency astray.

With files from CBC's Bill Gillespie and The Canadian Press