Alleged terrorist plotters failed to recruit Ontario pathologist, says his lawyer

Canada-Pakistan-Ontario

Khurram Syed Sher arrives to face trial on a terrorism charge at the Ottawa court house in Ottawa on Monday, February 10, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

JIM BRONSKILL
THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — A lawyer for accused terrorist Khurram Syed Sher says there is no evidence his client signed on to a purported conspiracy to support violent jihad.

During closing arguments Thursday, defence lawyer Michael Edelson told an Ontario Superior Court judge that Sher did not “buy in” to the scheme of two alleged co-conspirators.

Secret audio surveillance of a July 2010 discussion among the three men at an Ottawa home reveals no intent on Sher’s part to become part of a plot, Edelson said.

“He didn’t buy in. He didn’t join,” Edelson said. “There was never an actual objective — which he agreed to — that was illegal.”

The Crown says the homegrown group was dedicated to supporting violent jihad by whatever means possible.

It contends the three men agreed to raise money, send cash abroad, take paramilitary training, make and use explosives, and scout targets in Canada.

Sher, 31, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiring to facilitate terrorism.

He was an anatomical pathologist in St. Thomas, Ont., south of London, before his arrest in August 2010.

Sher made international headlines shortly after his arrest when it emerged he had once performed on the popular TV program “Canadian Idol.” He has been out on bail, under strict conditions, for years.

A publication ban on certain elements of the case limits what can be reported during the trial, expected to wrap up Friday.

Early in the trial, the Crown played six segments of sometimes patchy audio culled from electronic surveillance of the 2010 meeting.

At one point Sher and the two others on the recording discuss the best means of choosing a group leader, suggesting they pick a name from a hat or even spin a bottle.

The meeting descends into laughter, farce and “all sorts of stupidity,” Edelson told the court.

“They weren’t legitimately creating any conspiracy here.”

There is “ample proof” that the other two men had been plotting together, but that happened before Sher dropped in on them that evening en route to southern Ontario, Edelson said.

During the meeting, the three discussed various plans, allegedly including Sher’s intention to arrange tactical instruction through a man he met in Pakistan who claimed to be with the Taliban.

Edelson said the Crown has acknowledged that the RCMP looked into the Pakistani man’s background and concluded he was not known to be affiliated with any terrorist group.

The evidence indicates Sher was simply “trying to string these guys along” during the Ottawa meeting and actually had no serious intention of becoming an extremist.

In his closing arguments, Crown prosecutor Jason Wakely said the accused co-conspirators were candid with Sher about their past activities and future plans. For instance, one confided to Sher that he learned to make bombs in Afghanistan.

The three men were clearly talking about advancing their cause through violent means, Wakely said.

Judge Charles Hackland raised the question of whether Sher suddenly found himself, quite unexpectedly, in the middle of some “very radical talk.”

Wakely said the audio recording of the July 2010 meeting clearly implicates Sher.

“He is agreeing to this objective to facilitate violent jihad,” Wakely said. “He knew what they were all about. He knew what they were doing.”

Sher never expresses any reservations, nor says anything to distance himself from the two others, he added.

No reasonable person would have kept silent about what they heard that night, Wakely said.

“How can you not call the police?”

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

17:58ET 03-04-14

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