Montreal couple cleared of terror charges, boyfriend guilty of explosives-related offence

A young Montreal couple who said they were planning to visit Greece in 2015 were cleared by a jury Tuesday of accusations the trip was really part of a covert plan to join the terrorist group ISIS.

El Mahdi Jamali, 20, and Sabrine Djermane, 21, were arrested in spring 2015

Sabrine Djermane, left, El Mahdi Jamali, centre, and his father leave the courthouse after the pair were acquitted of terror related charges on Tuesday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

A young Montreal couple who said they were planning to visit Greece in 2015 were acquitted by a jury Tuesday of accusations the trip was really part of a covert plan to join the terrorist group ISIS. 

El Mahdi Jamali, 20, and Sabrine Djermane, 21, were each facing three charges: 

  • Attempting to leave Canada to commit a terrorist act.
  • Possession of an explosive substance.
  • Committing an act under the direction of, or for the profit of, a terrorist organization.

Djermane was found not guilty on all three charges. Jamali was found guilty of possessing an explosive without a lawful excuse, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, compared to the 14 he faced under the original explosives charge.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc David, the trial judge, ordered the couple released after reading the verdict. Both have been detained since April 2015.

Given his time served, David told Jamali later in the day his sentence was already purged. Lawyers for the couple said the verdict represented the best possible outcome and sent a clear message to the public.

​"At the end of the day, aside from the guilt of Mr. Jamali on a reduced charge, Sabrine Djermane and El Mahdi Jamali are not terrorists," said Charles Benmouyal, Djermane's lawyer.

But despite the acquittals, the couple still faces a long list of conditions stemming from a peace bond that was issued separately from the criminal charges, and which remains in effect. 

Those conditions include a prohibition against using social media, checking in weekly with the RCMP and avoiding Montreal's Assahaba mosque, linked to the controversial imam Adil Charkaoui.

"If we asked for these conditions, and maintain the [peace bonds], it's because there are still reasonable grounds to believe in the possibility of offences," prosecutor Lyne Décarie said Tuesday afternoon.

Décarie indicated the Crown would return to court on Jan. 16 to seek to have the peace bond conditions imposed for a fixed period of time. She did not say whether the Crown planned to appeal the verdict itself. 

"We'll study the judge's instructions to the jury," Décarie said.

Prosecutor Lyne Décarie said the Crown will return to court next month to seek to have the peace bond conditions maintained. (Radio-Canada)

Defence argued pair were planning a vacation

​​When they were arrested in the spring of 2015, Djermane and Jamali were 19 and 18, respectively, and were living together and attending Collège de Maisonneuve.

During the three-month trial in a Montreal courtroom, Décarie tried to convince the jury that Djermane and Jamali, who had plans to fly to Greece two weeks after the arrest, were planning to eventually travel to Syria.

Décarie pointed to evidence including a recipe for a pressure cooker bomb, which was found on the bedside table in the couple's condo.

Djermane and Jamali, shown in a courtroom sketch, were on trial for terrorism-related offences. (Radio-Canada)

The jury also heard how during their investigation, RCMP officers discovered a pressure cooker and a dollar-store bag full of ingredients required for that recipe, including matches, a clock, coffee filters and nails.

The lawyers for Djermane and Jamali did not mount a defence.

But during closing arguments, Jamali's lawyer tried to convince the jury that there was no firm evidence that his client supported the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and nothing proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the couple had any kind of plan to go to Syria.

Instead, he suggested the two were just planning to visit Athens, as tourists.

"The jury understood that reading La Presse or Radio-Canada articles about the Islamic State is not a crime," Tiago Murias said Tuesday. 

"The jury understood that there is a difference between informing yourself, being curious, and going beyond that."

Charles Benmouyal (right) said the couple is looking to get on with their lives following the verdict. (Radio-Canada)

The defence also suggested that if the pair had truly planned on making a bomb, they wouldn't have left the recipe out like that, when they knew the RCMP had suspicions.

The couple's lawyers also argued that what the prosecution was trying to pass off as ingredients for bomb making were, in fact, nothing more than innocuous household objects.

Djermane's lawyer said the Crown was relying on circumstantial evidence, which ultimately failed to sway the jury.

"The conclusion that the jury had to draw was that there wasn't only one explanation possible based on the evidence that was gathered," Benmouyal said. 

Life goes on

Over the five days of deliberations, the jury posed two questions to the judge. One involved the definition of "knowingly" in relation to the charge of attempting to leave Canada to commit terrorism. 

The second question was about whether a list of bomb-making materials could itself be considered an explosive substance. David told them it could not, but it could inform their view of how the seized materials intended to be used.

After 2½ half years behind bars, the couple will now be looking to put the ordeal behind them, their lawyers said.

"They still love each other. They have a future together, and that's what they're going to concentrate their efforts on," Benmouyal said.