June 23, 2008 / 12:28 PM / 9 years ago

Canadian aided foiled U.K. bomb plot, court hears

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian software developer designed a remote bomb detonator he called the “hi-fi digimonster” to be used in planned attacks in the United Kingdom, an Ottawa court heard on Monday.

<p>Police officers stand guard outside a warehouse where more than half a tonne of ammonium nitrate fertilizer was recovered in west London, March 30, 2004. REUTERS/David Bebber</p>

In his opening statement, prosecutor David McKercher laid out in extraordinary detail the evidence he will use against Momin Khawaja, 29, to try to prove he was “directly involved” in the British bomb plot.

But the first day of the high-profile trial ended with a giant question mark as Khawaja’s lawyer tried to discredit the prosecution’s star witness, saying much of what he offered as evidence was “hearsay” and therefore should be ruled inadmissible. The judge will say on Tuesday whether or not he upholds the objection.

In his summary, McKercher drew from intercepted e-mails and taped conversations to describe how Khawaja, who lived a seemingly innocuous middle-class life in Ottawa, espoused extremist, violent views and was prepared to participate in killing hundreds of civilians.

He said Khawaja met with members of a terrorist cell during visits to London in 2003 and 2004, kept them updated on his efforts to develop a detonator device and attended a paramilitary training camp in Pakistan where he learned how to use automatic assault rifles and grenade launchers.

Khawaja said “Osama bin Laden was the most beloved person in the world,” McKercher told the court, citing an online blog posting allegedly written by the accused in December 2003.

Khawaja -- the first Canadian to be charged under a tough anti-terrorism law -- faces seven charges centering on the use of explosives, participating in a terrorist group and financing a terrorist group. He could face life in prison if found guilty.

He has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

British police named him as co-conspirator in the case of five men who were jailed for life last year for a thwarted plan to bomb nightclubs, trains and a shopping center in the U.K.

But he did not stand trial there and has been held in an Ottawa jail since 2004, awaiting a separate trial.

The clean-shaven Khawaja, wearing a dark grey suit and with his hair pulled back in two long strands behind his ears, briefly waved and smiled to a member of the public at the start of the trial but otherwise sat expressionless in the prisoner’s dock.

McKercher read from an October 2003 e-mail, allegedly to Khawaja’s fiancee in Pakistan, that referred to his mother’s concerns: “One thing she wanted to make sure of was that you were down with the ‘J’ (jihad) and knew of my involvement in it.”

Among items seized at his home during a police raid was a digital photograph of a homemade device carrying the file name “hi-fi digimonster,” as well as three semi-automatic weapons and books on guerrilla warfare and “jihad,” McKercher said.

Khawaja allegedly talked about using his credentials as an employee of Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department to send his bomb detonator to his foreign associates via courier.

TIGHT SECURITY

The Ottawa trial was shrouded in airport-like security on Monday, with bans on gels and liquids and a metal detector for people entering the courtroom.

Legal experts see the case as a test of Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation, rushed through Parliament in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The law gives the government broad powers to keep intelligence information secret on national security grounds. Khawaja’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, has argued in pretrial proceedings for more access to the evidence.

Greenspon interrupted the prosecution’s first witness on Monday -- a convicted Al Qaeda supporter turned informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar -- arguing that much of what Babar said about his client was based on what third parties told him.

“This is an iceberg and we’re just seeing the tip of it,” Greenspon told the judge, referring to Babar’s testimony.

Greenspon said Babar testified for 17 days in the London trial and 95 percent of it was hearsay. In Ottawa on Monday, Babar said an associate in London told him that “someone from Canada was coming” and that this Canadian had a house in Pakistan that the group could use.

“The evidence is prejudicial, unfair, and Mr. Khawaja is not going to have much of an opportunity to answer it because the persons who supposedly made these comments to Mr. Babar are not being produced,” Greenspon later told reporters.

Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson

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