Crown Releases Wiretap Evidence Against Terrorist Suspects

Almost two years have ticked by since that Saturday morning press conference, when anti-TERROR cops assured the country that a looming disaster had been averted.

Crown Releases Wiretap Evidence Against Terrorist Suspects

Almost two years have ticked by since that Saturday morning press conference, when anti-TERROR cops assured the country that a looming disaster had been averted. A gang of alleged homegrown terrorists was safely behind bars, and their master plan - a wish list of truck bombs and beheadings - had been busted in the nick of time. "This group posed a real and serious threat," said the RCMP news release. "It had the capacity and intent to carry out these attacks."

Twenty-two months later, it's the prosecutors who have endured their fair share of attacks. After all the hype and all the headlines, three suspects have been set free, four others have been released on bail, and in a move that reeked of desperation, the Crown abruptly cancelled a preliminary hearing that could have resulted in a few more acquittals. All the while, a sweeping publication ban has kept the bulk of the evidence under wraps - prompting the inevitable question: were these guys really a looming threat to national security, or a bunch of tough-talking wannabes?

Crown attorneys prefer to address questions like that in court. Which is exactly what they did this week, releasing fresh new details - including never-before-heard wiretaps - that shed some welcome light on why the police were so anxious to put these men behind bars. "Rome has to be defeated," said one of the suspects, unaware that the authorities were listening. "And we have to be the ones that do it ... If if it takes long, so be it. We just gotta stick with it because this is our mission. This is our life's mission."

The bulk of the new evidence is contained in a 33-page factum tabled in the case of an anonymous teenager - the first suspect to stand trial for his role in the so-called "Toronto 18." On Tuesday, day one of his trial, the judge ruled that in order to protect the fair trial rights of the other 12 accused, the media is allowed to report specific testimony - but not names. In other words, the public is allowed to know what two suspects said to each other on the phone, but not who those suspects are.

We now know, for example, that during the infamous "training camp" in the winter of 2005, one of the participants rallied the rest of the group to jihad. "Our mission's greater, whether we get arrested, whether we get killed, we get tortured," he preached. "God willing, we will do it. God willing, we will get the victory." During another conversation caught on tape, two men are discussing "the construction of the first remote control detonator," and how it only has a range of 30 feet, "which is not good." They expressed a "chilling indifference," the Crown says, to "the loss of innocent lives after 'the bomb goes off on Front Street.' " Said one suspect: "Too bad for them."

The case summary also outlines the group's initial grand plan: "Operation Badr," a plot to storm Parliament Hill, kidnap politicians, and execute them one by one until Canadian troops are pulled out of Afghanistan. In one disturbing wiretap, a person is overheard boasting to a potential recruit. "They're probably expecting what happened in London or something...some bombing in a subway, kills 10 people and everybody gets deported," he says. "We're not doing that...our thing it's, it's much, much greater on a scale ... You do it once and you make sure they can never recover again."

This document alone does not prove anyone's guilt. Defence lawyers, of course, will have every chance to offer an innocent explanation for such vile talk. But the Crown's factum makes one thing abundantly clear: as far as the government is concerned, these few snippets are just the tip of a very big iceberg. "There are numerous intercepted communications (wherein the voices of the accused are identified) which are equally reprehensible," the document reads. If anything, the prosecutors suggest that the suspects should be grateful for the publication bans. "The cumulative effect of these orders has thus far kept the vast majority of highly prejudicial evidence out of the public domain," the document reads. "None of the post-arrest interviews, intercepted communications, video surveillance, or media files, which contain highly prejudicial and self-incriminating statements made by the accused, may be published."

There's one other thing contained in the Crown's synopsis - and it shouldn't come as much surprise: the Mounties had yet another informant on the inside. As most Canadians already know, the RCMP paid at least two undercover civilians to help crack the case (Mubin Shaikh, who received $300,000 for his work; and another unidentified Muslim, who was paid $4.1 million for setting up a delivery of fake fertilizer). However, according to prosecutors, a third man "voluntarily met with investigators" just weeks before the sensational arrests, telling police that he went on yet another camping expedition with some of the suspects. The purpose of the trip, he said, was to "train" for "jihad." No word yet on whether the unidentified man profited from his tip.

Maclean's April 7, 2008