OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian man was sentenced to 10-1/2 years in jail on Thursday for his involvement with a group that planned to bomb nightclubs, trains and a shopping center in Britain.
Software engineer Momin Khawaja, 29, was convicted last October of working with a British gang that he knew was involved in terrorist activity.
“This is not a case of a vulnerable young man being beguiled or lured into a criminal act . . . Momin Khawaja was a willing participant,” Ontario Superior Court Judge Douglas Rutherford said at the sentencing.
Khawaja, who remained impassive through the court proceedings, was the first person to be convicted under tough anti-terror laws brought in after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
British police had named Khawaja as co-conspirator in the case of five men who were jailed for life in 2007 for the thwarted plan to set off the bombs.
Khawaja was found guilty in October of working with the British group, and helping and financing it.
But he was found not guilty of knowing that explosives and a remote detonating device that he worked on would be used in the planned attacks. He denied all the charges.
The five years Khawaja has already spent in custody will not count toward the sentence, and Khawaja must serve another five years and three months before he is eligible for parole.
The prosecution, which had demanded two life sentences, said it was considering an appeal. So did the defense, but on the grounds Khawaja should have been set free.
“Canada must certainly not accept the exportation of terrorism from within its borders to victimize innocent people in other parts of the world,” Rutherford said.
He said that while Khawaja was a willing helper and supporter of the British group, others in the group “were way out in front ... in terms of their determination to bring death, destruction and terror to innocent people”.
Defense lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the sentence was excessive, given the five years Khawaja has already spent in jail. He wanted that five years to be considered as 10 years when it came to sentencing.
“It’s not nothing. It’s 10-1/2 years and having regard to the time served, that adds up to more than 20 years,” he told reporters. “Twenty-year sentences for Canadians, first offenders, where nobody is actually hurt, are extreme.”
Prosecutors said the verdict showed Canadian laws worked, even though the sentence was shorter than the one they sought.
“Mr Khawaja and others like him, whatever their ideology, are not entitled to take matters into their own hands,” said chief prosecutor David McKercher.
University of Toronto professor Wesley Walk, one of Canada’s leading terrorism experts, said Rutherford had handed down “a very light and surprising” sentence.
“I‘m sure that this case is not over, even though it’s five years in the making, and there will be appeals,” he told reporters. “The fact that you stop a plot is what you want to do. Does that mean that because you stop a plot you really can’t impose significant sentences? ... There has to be some confusion coming out of this.”
Reporting by David Ljunggren, editing by Janet Guttsman