From The National Post
International links linger after ‘Toronto 18’ member imprisoned
‘A worldwide battle’
Stewart Bell, National Post Published: Thursday, September 03, 2009
BRAMPTON — He has been called the Terrorist Mr. Fix-It. Aabid Hussein Khan was an avid al-Qaeda supporter who recruited young Muslims and arranged their passage to Pakistan for terrorist training.
Although he lived in central England, Khan travelled often, including to Toronto, where he intended to rent an apartment for recruits on their way to Pakistan’s network of weapons training camps.
“He was always spoken of in the sense of one who could facilitate travel to places for training and was particularly hopeful of having a place near Toronto, where his wife lived,” said Mubin Shaikh, who informed on Khan’s associates in Toronto for the RCMP.
Now in a British prison, Khan is considered a key figure in a terrorist network that spanned a half-dozen countries, including Canada. He is also one of a growing number of friends, associates and co-conspirators within that network who have been convicted of terrorist crimes following a series of overlapping investigations.
Three years after Canadian police arrested 18 Toronto-area men and accused them of plotting terrorist al-Qaeda-inspired attacks in Southern Ontario, the suspected ringleaders have not yet had their day in court.
But related trials in Britain, the United States and elsewhere have already ended with convictions, and yesterday Saad Khalid was sentenced in a Brampton court to 14 years for his involvement in the Toronto bomb plot.
Khalid was the first of the “Toronto 18” to plead guilty, and the second to be sentenced following last year’s conviction of a juvenile, but convictions are accumulating outside Canada as well.
In Atlanta, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee was convicted last month. Another Atlanta man, Syed Haris Ahmed, was found guilty in June. U.S. District Court Judge William Duffey Jr. wrote that the pair had met at least one of the Canadian suspects in Toronto to discuss training in Pakistan and potential terrorist targets.
In London meanwhile, Khan was convicted along with two other British men last August. When he was arrested in 2006, after returning to Britain from Pakistan, police found a video allegedly showing some of the Toronto suspects training at a camp in Ontario. The Atlanta, British and Toronto men were referred to as “co-conspirators” during the U.S. trial, and their online chats (seized from Khan’s computer hard drive) were introduced into evidence.
“There were powerful international linkages,” Jack Hooper, who was the deputy director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service at the time of the investigations, said in an interview.
Defence lawyer David Kolinsky, who represents one of the Toronto suspects, said the convictions would not affect the cases of the nine accused still awaiting trial in Brampton.
The jurors must base their verdict solely on the evidence presented in court, and the links between the Toronto suspects and those already convicted were neither strong nor relevant, he said. “The Crown is going to try to introduce meetings of those individuals into evidence and try to prove that as some part of a conspiracy. It might have an impact on the case but I don’t see that happening at the trial.”
The Canadian investigation was launched by CSIS and targeted Toronto-area youths the agency believed had adopted an al-Qaeda-type extremist ideology. The RCMP began its own investigation, called Project Osage, in 2005 and paid Mr. Shaikh and a second agent named Shaher Elsohemy to infiltrate the group.
While Canadian authorities were following the Toronto suspects, a British investigation called Operation Praline and an FBI investigation known as Northern Exposure were examining the activities of men with suspected links to the Ontario group. Police in Denmark, Bosnia and Bangladesh were also involved.
The police probes targeted small groups of young men who were allegedly using the Internet to discuss plans for paramilitary training and terrorist attacks. Some of them had also met face to face in Toronto and Pakistan. Evan Kohlmann, who testified as an expert witness at the Atlanta trial and attended the London trial as an observer, described the suspects in Toronto, Atlanta and the U.K. as “teammates.”
As they became increasingly radical, Mr. Kohlmann said, the youths decided they needed training, which is where Khan came in. Also known as Abu Umar, Khan told the group he could arrange for them to visit camps in Pakistan run by Jaishe Mohamed and Lashkar Tayiba, the terrorist group behind the recent Mumbai attacks.
In his online chats, Khan discussed renting an apartment in Toronto that would be used by recruits going to and from the camps in Pakistan. The two Atlanta men eventually visited Toronto to discuss the training plans. Sadequee and Ahmed took a bus to Toronto in February, 2005 to met three men, including a member of the Toronto 18 group, said a “findings of fact” released last month by the U.S. judge.
“Specifically, they discussed and agreed upon a plan for members of the group to travel to Pakistan to obtain paramilitary training,” he wrote. They also discussed “strategic locations” in the United States that could be potential targets for terrorist attacks, such as military bases, oil storage facilities and refineries.
The judge wrote that the Americans later filmed dozens of videos of Washington, D.C., landmarks and sent some of them to Khan, and that “one of the purposes of transmitting the Washington, D.C., videos to Khan was to assist in planning attacks in the United States.”
Meanwhile, the Toronto group began building detonators and making plans for a series of bombings in Southern Ontario, according to a “statement of uncontested facts” released by the Crown.
The bombs were to be placed in three rented U-Haul vans and detonated remotely at about 9 a.m. in mid-November 2006 at the Toronto Stock Exchange, the CSIS regional office beside the CN Tower and at a military base off Highway 401 between Toronto and Ottawa, it said.
One of the accused told Mr. Elsohemy, the undercover agent, the bombings would be the “battle of Toronto” and described how “glass will be shattered on the streets, cars will be flipped and streets will be damaged.” He said, “there will be blood, glass and debris everywhere.”
The purpose of the attacks was to pressure Canada to withdraw from Afghanistan and “screw” Stephen Harper, the government and the military, the statement said.
A suspect also told the agent he had suggested the group film a video that would make it look like “al-Qaeda was the one who did it” and proposed they use the name “al-Qaeda organization in Canada,” the statement of facts said.
The alleged ringleader of the bomb plot allegedly intended to leave for Pakistan the day before the Toronto attacks, and then make his way to Afghanistan, where he thought he would be “considered a leader.”
But no attacks ever occurred. Khan, Sadequee, Ahmed and the Toronto suspects were arrested in 2006. A Swedish associate in Bosnia known as Maximus, and a Moroccan known as Terrorist007, were also arrested and have since been convicted.
At the trials in London and Atlanta, Khan was portrayed as, if not the leader, at least a central figure in the international network. The judge in the Atlanta case called him a recruiter for Pakistani terrorist groups. The evidence of Mr. Kohlmann, the evidence in the trials in London and Atlanta and the findings of fact by Judge Duffey have not been introduced or tested as evidence at a trial of any of the Toronto 18 in court in Brampton. Mr. Shaikh, the RCMP agent, said an interview Khan was “spoken of as one who had extensive connections” with like-minded youths in Europe, North America and South Asia. “I was shown a CD on which he was in Afghanistan participating in hostilities,” he said.
Khan testified he had “strong Islamic beliefs” and had been using computers since a young age to follow the struggles of Muslims around the world. “I felt upset and angry,” he said.
Later, he began engaging in online discussions about Muslim issues and jihad but prosecutors said that progressed to talk about training and terrorist attacks. Khan visited Pakistan repeatedly and said he came to Toronto in March 2005 to settle an inheritance and marry.
The Crown Prosecution Service in Britain said Khan was the leader of a British cell that had accumulated a library of terrorist information such as guides on making explosives and step-by-step instructions on how to make a suicide vest.
“Aabid Khan was very much the ‘Mr. Fix-It’ of the group,” the prosecution service said in a statement following Khan’s conviction. “He preyed on vulnerable young people and turned them into recruits to his cause, using Internet chat rooms to lure them in then incite them to fight. He arranged their passage to Pakistan for terrorism training, and talked about ‘a worldwide battle.’ ”