June 25, 2008 / 1:22 AM / 9 years ago

Canada terror suspect faces first legal setback

<p>An Ottawa police officer keeps watch as vehicles transporting Momin Khawaja arrive at the Ottawa courthouse June 23, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian man accused of helping plan bomb attacks in Britain suffered his first setback in court on Tuesday, when the judge allowed the prosecution’s star witness to take the stand, despite conceding that some of his testimony may be hearsay.

Judge Douglas Rutherford said that, on day two of this high-profile trial of computer expert Momin Khawaja, it was too early for him to throw out the testimony of Mohammed Junaid Babar -- a convicted Al Qaeda supporter turned informer -- in case some of it turned out to be useful evidence.

“I feel compelled to allow the witness to deal with the question that provoked the objection,” Rutherford told the court. “Some of the hearsay admitted might have to be considered for much more limited purposes,” he added.

Rutherford’s ruling came in response to an objection by Khawaja’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, to Babar’s testimony on the first day of the trial on Monday.

Greenspon said Babar’s knowledge of Khawaja was based on remarks by third parties and that using him as a witness appeared to be a veiled attempt by the prosecution to implicate Khawaja in a number of conspiracies unrelated to the so-called fertilizer bomb plot in Britain.

Babar suggested from the witness stand on Monday that Khawaja was in contact with the same wide circle of Islamic extremists in the United Kingdom and Pakistan that he was. He said he had heard from other individuals about “a Canadian” who was planning to visit Britain and who had offered his house in Pakistan for members of the group to use.

However, he also said he had spoken directly to Khawaja once on the phone and that they had corresponded by e-mail.

Babar was also a central witness in the London trial that led to the conviction and life sentencing last year of five men in the same bomb conspiracy.

He is providing the evidence in exchange for a reduced sentence from a U.S. court, where he pleaded guilty in 2004.

Khawaja faces seven charges of committing terror acts in Canada, Britain and Pakistan, and could face life in prison if found guilty. He has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

He is accused of developing a bomb detonator in the basement of his family’s home in the east end of Ottawa, which was to be used in bomb attacks against a nightclub, a shopping mall and an electricity supply network in Britain.

Prosecutors said they will draw from intercepted e-mails and surveillance to show he was in frequent contact with members of the British bomb plot and others to keep them abreast of his work. He traveled to Britain in 2003 and 2004 to show others his device, gave cash to the group, made property available in Pakistan and underwent paramilitary training in Pakistan, they allege.

Khawaja was the first Canadian charged under anti-terrorism legislation introduced soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson

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