Canadian judge sentences convicted terrorist to 10-1/2 years
Mohammed Momin Khawaja, the first man convicted under Canada's anti-terror laws, was involved with foiled bomb plot in Britain.
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The first man to be convicted in Canada under its anti-terrorism laws has been sentenced to 10-1/2 years in prison. Mohammed Momin Khawaja was found guilty last fall of providing material support to a British terrorist group that had planned to detonate fertilizer bombs in London.
Acknowledging the historic moment, Rutherford said he wanted to send a message that terrorism in Canada won't be tolerated, but at least one expert said the judge failed by not handing out at least one life sentence to the Ottawa software developer.
The Ottawa-born Khawaja
... has already spent five years behind bars, and must serve five years before he is eligible for parole.
"Momin Khawaja was clearly aware and knowledgeable of some of the terrorist activities," the judge said, pointing to Khawaja's association with internationally known Islamic terrorists, his work on remote-control detonating devices, his eager involvement in a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and his role in directly and indirectly financing terrorism from 2002 to 2004.
Khawaja was the first person to be charged under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, pushed through Parliament following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
During post-9/11 travels to Britain, Mr. Khawaja met men who changed the course of his life.
They included Omar Khyam, a young British-Pakistani radicalized by the Kashmir conflict, and who gave his name to terrorist conspirators known as the Khyam group.
In 2003, Mr. Khawaja joined the British Muslims in Pakistan for paramilitary training, learning how to fire Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
After returning to Canada, he wired money to his British cohorts, and began building a detonator in his family home. When he travelled back to the Britain to discuss its progress, police and spies observed all his interactions with the Khyam group.
Five of Khawaja's British co-conspirators were convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life terms. Although Khawaja did not appear in the British trial, a BBC report on some of the trial evidence suggests the extent of Khawaja's involvement. British police and MI5 recorded Khawaja discussing his efforts at building a detonator with the British plot's ringleader, Omar Khyam. The British court also heard evidence from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who tapped Khawaja's phone and monitored his e-mail exchanges with Khyam and his associates.
Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto expert on anti-terrorism issues, found a lack of consistency between Rutherford's rhetoric and the actual punishment meted out.
"I think there has to be some confusion coming out of this," said Wark. "I think it's going to be looked at a bit askance, in terms of our foreign partners."
Fellow academic Wade Deisman, who teaches police studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, couldn't disagree more.
"It works out to be about 15 years, and I think that sounds about right," said Deisman.
"We live in this climate now where people just want longer and longer sentences. It's hard to know what's going to slake this appetite."
The Ottawa Citizen writes that the court's sentence also will have an impact on the government's efforts to reintroduce two controversial clauses of the Canadian anti-terrorism laws.
The contentious clauses — which "expired" in 2007 — give police temporary powers of preventive arrest, and the ability to compel witnesses to testify at closed hearings in front of judges. Although the powers have never been used, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson gave Parliament notice his government plans to restore them.
In the wake of the Khawaja conviction and Thursday's sentencing, experts want to know why.
"Instead of having secret prisons and courts making use of secret evidence, here we have a trial in open court where the perpetrator is sentenced to a minimum sentence of 10 years hard time," said Michael Byers, a law professor at University of British Columbia.
"It's a balanced, reasonable, yet weighty outcome — one that shows that our legal system, with all of its checks and balances, can deal responsibly and effectively with terrorism."
The Citizen adds that experts note the Canadian government offered covertly-obtained intelligence as evidence during the open trial, which would suggest that the clauses, which Canada has never used, may not be needed to successfully prosecute terrorism.