July 12, 2008

Canadian terror trial in Day 13 ..

Day 13: Landmark trial on track for speedy conclusion

Court hears Khawaja wrote to fiancee about crushing West with crippling attacks

The court had scheduled up to 12 weeks to hear Canada's first major post-9/11 terror case. As the first Criminal Code prosecution under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act, the pre-trial Khawaja case was the subject of constitutional challenges over the new and untested law, appeals, cross-appeals and two unsuccessful defence bids to the Supreme Court of Canada to toss out the case.

The skirmishing lasted for more than two years, delaying the original January 2007 trial start and putting Canada well behind Britain, the U.S. and Australia in mounting a terrorism prosecution. Many assumed the trial would be no different.

Day 13: Landmark trial on track for speedy conclusion

Court hears Khawaja wrote to fiancee about crushing West with crippling attacks

Ian MacLeod, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Friday, July 11, 2008

Ottawa - After interminable pre-trial delays and questions about Canada's ability to prosecute terrorism, the Crown's case against Momin Khawaja is to end Monday, just 14 days after the landmark terror trial began.

Crown prosecutor David McKercher told court Friday he expects to rest the case by the end of the day after calling his fifth and final witness, Mr. Khawaja's former fiancée.

In a possible preview of her testimony via a video link from Dubai, some e-mails from 2003 that Mr. Khawaja sent to Zeba Khan were presented in court Friday, offering a chilling view of his political and ideological beliefs.

He wrote about driving western troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and of crushing the West economically with more 9/11-magnitude attacks until, "they cripple and fall ... never to rise again."

With the defence expected to call few, if any, witnesses, Judge Douglas Rutherford could begin considering his verdicts next week on the seven terrorism charges to which Mr. Khawaja has pleaded not guilty.

The stakes are high for both sides. If convicted, Mr. Khawaja, 29, faces life in prison. The RCMP, especially after its failure in the Maher Arar affair and questionable activities related to other alleged terrorism cases, is under pressure to prove it is capable of discovering, apprehending and imprisoning terrorists. By extension, Canada's international reputation to combat terrorism is on trial, too.

Women played a prominent role at the trial Friday.

Zenab Armandpisheh, a 24-year-old Quebec student, testified Mr. Khawaja gave her a total of almost $7,200 in late 2002 and early 2003, the details of which the defence consented to without argument.

Mr. Khawaja, she said, contacted her by e-mail through a former mutual acquaintance, one of five men convicted in a London court last year for plotting to bomb the British capital.

He told her his name was Ibn Hamza and suggested a woman would draw less suspicion transferring money overseas than a man. They later met in person on the University of Ottawa campus, the first of 10 to 15 rendezvous, she said.

He first asked her to send a wire transfer of $5,180 to Saira Khan, wife of Omar Khan, in Britain. Mr. Khan was the ringleader of the al-Qaeda-directed terror cell plotting to bomb public sites around London.

Mr. Khawaja is accused, among other charges, of making a radio transmitter/receiver for the group that was to trigger the explosives. His defence is that he was duped by members of the British group into believing he was making bomb parts for the Muslim insurgency in Afghanistan when, unbeknownst to him, the group's true target was to terrorize London.

Court heard Friday that Mr. Khawaja instructed Ms. Armandpisheh to open a Bank of Montreal chequing account in January 2003. A few days later, he gave her a $500 deposit, with an additional $1,500 deposit in late March.

She gave him the account's debit card. "He told me he was going to Pakistan to go to Afghanistan and that he wanted to use the debit card ....for food while they were in Pakistan."

A month later, the card was traced to Mr. Khan in Britain.

At another point, Mr. Khawaja gave her eight DVDs with gruesome scenes of Muslim jihad fighters in action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya and asked her to show them to others.

Several months after they first met, "I stopped talking to him because I actually thought he was dishonest," she told court. "I just didn't understand what he was doing and I didn't want to be part of it."

Under cross-examination by Mr. Greenspon, she explained she and Mr. Khawaja shared the interpretation that "jihad" is broad term describing all sorts of struggles, not merely the violent, physical struggle against the perceived enemies of Islam.

"It's any sort of struggle that is outwardly, not just internal," she said. "Breaking a (bad) habit could also be jihad."

Later, Mr. Greenspon argued the e-mails sent to Zeba Khan made no mention of Mr. Khawaja's alleged involvement in the London bomb plot and were, therefore, an improper and inadmissible prosecution ploy to use his political and ideological beliefs to draw unwarranted conclusions about his possible criminal intent in an entirely different matter.

Judge Rutherford is to rule on the issue next week.

Meanwhile, in another e-mail entered as evidence and to a woman named Fatima Bham, Mr. Khawaja talks of, "making electronic devices for the Mujahideen to use in Afghanistan and Iraq," a remark that, in the face of it, seems to support his defence position.

After court, Mr. Greenspon told reporters whenever the prosecution rests, he is considering asking Judge Rutherford for a directed verdict - that the charges be dropped because the Crown has not met its burden of proof that Mr. Khawaja is guilty.

The trial continues.

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