Sentence for the 24-year-old Mississauga man the stiffest ever to be handed down under the Anti-Terrorism Act
The architect of an audacious Al Qaeda inspired terrorist plot designed to cripple the economy and unleash mass carnage by blowing up buildings in downtown Toronto, was sentenced Monday to life in prison.
"The potential for loss of life existed on a scale never before seen in Canada,"said Justice Bruce Durno, while sentencing Zakaria Amara, one of the linchpins of the Toronto 18 homegrown terror cell.
"Had the plan been implemented, it would've changed the lives of many, if not all Canadians," Durno told the Brampton court, pointing out it cannot be said that terrorist plots only occur in other countries.
The sentence for the 24-year-old Mississauga man is the stiffest ever to be handed down under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.
He will be eligible for parole in six years and 3 months.
During his sentencing hearing, Amara told the court he had abandoned his extremist views and would work hard to regain the trust of the Canadian people.
On Monday, he reiterated some of his earlier sentiments and requested permission to address the court after hearing his sentence.
"I just want to reassure you that whatever promises I made, I will still try my best," said Amara, as his wife, mother and sister looked on from the body of the court.
Amara confessed to leading a terrorist training camp, researching ways to build a bomb, ordering the necessary chemicals and building a remote-controlled detonator.
He planned to detonate three one-tonne bombs, made with ammonium nitrate, outside the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Front Street offices of Canada's spy agency and military base off Hwy 401.
And in an effort to maximize casualties, Amara wanted to place metal chips inside bombs and launch his attacks at 9 am, when the downtown core would be bustling with people on their way to work.
"There can be no legitimate suggestion that this was not the real thing," said Durno, while reading from his decision, as Amara sat in the prisoner box with his head down.
"This was not a group of amateurs."
Prosecutors had been seeking a life sentence. The defence suggested a sentence of 18 to 20 years.
On Monday morning, Amara's co-accused, Saad Gaya, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
With credit for pre-trial custody, Gaya will serve another 4 1/2 years.
The two men are among 18 people charged in the summer of 2006 with belonging to a homegrown terror cell.
While delivering Gaya's sentence, Justice Bruce Durno told a Brampton court that terrorism offences are a "most vile course of criminal conduct" that "attack the very fabric of Canada's democratic ideals."
"This offence involved resorting to violence to affect change," said Durno. "It would have terrorized not only the community in which the bombs were exploded but the wider community."
While reading from a lengthy ruling, which took nearly an hour, the judge noted Gaya "was not the prime mover" in the plot. He said Gaya's role in the bomb plot by members of the so-called Toronto 18 was that of a "helper," and that his "naïve and trusting disposition" made him a "suitable recruit."
Durno said he was persuaded Gaya had accepted responsibility for his actions and demonstrated remorse.
The judge also noted that he was persuaded Gaya has been deterred and is not a danger to the public.
Gaya, who has been behind bars since his arrest in June 2006, was given credit of 7 1/2 years for his time spent in pre-trial custody.
Durno ruled it will be up to the parole board as to when Gaya is eligible for parole, meaning he could get his first shot at full parole after serving one third of his sentence, in about 18 months.
Gaya, a 22-year-old Oakville man, and Amara were ordered to submit a DNA sample and were given a lifetime weapons prohibition.
The case underscores the reality that Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism, said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud, who is responsible for National Security Criminal Investigations.
"The extent of the preparations and the enormity of the attacks being planned in this case are quite chilling" said Michaud, in a statement.
"This successful conclusion demonstrates that the appropriate response to terrorism lies with good intelligence, integrated law enforcement and effective prosecutions.
"Rest assured, the RCMP and its law enforcement and intelligence partners will remain diligent in continuing to investigate to the fullest extent all threats to Canada's national security."
Outside court Gaya's defence lawyer, Paul Slansky said his client was "stoic, but understands and accepts his guilt and the sentence imposed."
"Terrorism is a heinous and evil crime but not necessarily everyone who commits a heinous and evil crime is himself evil," said Slansky.
"I don't believe Mr. Gaya is evil. I do believe that he was a misguided youth who made some seriously erroneous mistakes in deciding to trust these people who were themselves misguided."
Slanksky told reporters he was disappointed that the judge ruled Gaya was wilfully blind that his involvement in a major terror plot would have likely resulted in death.
Both men pleaded in the fall to committing an indictable offence in association with a terrorist group, namely "doing anything with intent to cause an explosion that was likely to cause serious bodily harm or death or was likely to cause serious damage to property."
The Crown had been seeking a sentence of up to 18 years and argued Gaya was a willing participant. Prosecutors said Gaya should have known a plot involving three tonnes of explosives would have caused serious harm or death. If not, he was wilfully blind.
Meanwhile, the Gaya's defence he had been duped by Amara and didn't know the plan involved detonating a series of explosives targeting the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Front Street offices of Canada's spy agency and a military base off Hwy 401.
In both cases, the defence and Crown have 30 days to decide whether to appeal the sentence.
Last month, at the close of his sentencing hearing, Gaya apologized in court for his "shameful crime," saying he was "extremely grateful" the plot "did not progress any further."
"Some people believe that I must have been driven by a dark ideology of hatred, nihilism and destruction," said Gaya, while asking for leniency and requesting people not brand him a "terrorist."
He said he was "politically naïve" and believed the group's actions would result in Canada withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Gaya was arrested while unloading a delivery truck filled with three tonnes of bags marked ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The plot involved using three times more ammonium nitrate than was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
Unloading the bomb-making material with Gaya was Saad Khalid, the first adult who was part of this conspiracy to plead guilty. In September, Khalid was sentenced to 14 years. But with credit given for pre-trial custody he was ordered to serve an additional seven years. The Crown is appealing that decision.
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In: Afghanistan, News
Tags: Terrorist, Toronto 18, Canada, Al Qaeda
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada (load item map)
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