Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Canadian goes on trial over UK plots

CONSPIRACY ALLEGATIONSThe defendant has pleaded not guilty to the seven charges against him, the first that were filed under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act

AP , TORONTO

A man accused of participating in an al-Qaeda-inspired cell that plotted bombings in Britain pleaded not guilty on Monday as his trial began under heavy security.

Momin Khawaja, a 29-year-old Canadian-born software developer, is the first man to be charged under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act.

Khawaja faces seven terrorism-related charges that could put him in prison for life if he’s convicted.

In an Ottawa courtroom guarded by police sniper teams from surrounding rooftops and officers armed with submachine guns inside, the defendant, dressed in a white shirt and gray suit, sat impassively as federal prosecutors said how British surveillance and electronic bugs betrayed a murderous conspiracy.

“The aim was to cause death, injury and damage for religious and political purposes,” said David McKercher, the lead prosecutor.

Co-conspirators in Britain had purchased 600kg of fertilizer for use in making bombs, McKercher said.

“The result would be massive destruction and loss of life” if a single such bomb was detonated, he said.

As the charges were read on Monday, Khawaja simply pleaded not guilty in a soft-spoken voice to each of the seven terrorism charges. The defense has not signaled how it will attempt to rebut the allegations.

Khawaja, who once worked as a contract employee for the Foreign Affairs Department, is alleged to have collaborated with a group of British Muslims of Pakistani descent in 2004 in a thwarted plan to bomb a London nightclub, a shopping center near the city and parts of the British electrical and natural gas grids. Khawaja is of Pakistani descent.

Five of the plotters were convicted by a London court last year and sentenced to life in prison, while two others were acquitted.

British authorities said Khawaja provided technical help with detonators, but they did not charge him.

Khawaja was arrested in March 2004 and has been in jail since.

The proceedings were delayed by Khawaja’s legal challenges of federal legislation that allows the government to refuse to disclose sensitive information to an accused person on national security grounds. The legislation was rushed through parliament in late 2001, following the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

Khawaja’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, had argued that the secrecy provisions in the legislation violated guarantees of fundamental justice and fair trial under Canada’s Constitution, but Canada’s high court rejected these claims.

The star witness in the trial is expected to be Mohamed Junaid Babar, a one-time al-Qaeda operative turned police informer who gave key testimony at the earlier trial in Britain. Babar is facing charges in the US and is hoping for leniency there in exchange for his cooperation.

Lead prosecutor David McKercher indicated in a lengthy opening statement on Monday that much of the evidence against Khawaja will come from surveillance and electronic bugs planted by British police and security officers.

But it is to be buttressed by evidence gathered in Canada, including electronic equipment, weapons and ammunition seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a raid on the Khawaja family home in March 2004. Computer hard drives seized by the police also produced e-mail records of Khawaja’s contacts with his alleged co-conspirators.

Khawaja faces a range of offenses, including helping to develop bomb detonators, possession of explosives, helping to finance terrorist activity, receiving terrorist training and facilitating terrorism.

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