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Canada's spin on "homegrown" extremism

Shareef Abdelhaleem, found guilty of plotting mass murder in Toronto, sought to profit financially from his terrorism.

A sign displaying Toronto Stock Exchange information is seen in Toronto, Nov. 20, 2008. Among the targets of convicted terrorist, Shareef Abdelhaleem, was the Toronto Stock Exchange. The plan was to blow up a truck packed with explosives in front of TSX, another in front of the headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and a third at a military base. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — A man found guilty of Canada’s biggest terrorist conspiracy since the 9/11 attacks seems to have given new meaning to the term “homegrown” extremist.

Shareef Abdelhaleem was found guilty last week of being a key player in a plot for mass murder on the streets of downtown Toronto, Canada’s financial capital.

The twist comes from evidence that Abdelhaleem’s inspiration did not solely come from extremist interpretations of Islam. It also came, the court heard, from the practices of high-rolling Wall Street investors.

The plan was to blow up a truck packed with explosives in front of the Toronto Stock Exchange, another in front of the headquarters of Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and a third at a military base.

“The potential for loss of life existed on a scale never before seen in Canada,” Justice Bruce Durno said last week, while sentencing another of the accused ringleaders, Zakaria Amara, to life in prison.

The plot was stopped by Canada’s national police force, the RCMP, which paid two Muslim civilians to infiltrate the group of conspirators. The infiltrator who befriended Abdelhaleem received about $4 million for his work, which included a new home and identity under the witness protection program.

The infiltrator helped arrange a sting that saw the plotters buy a truckload of fake ammonium nitrate. Police arrested two of them in June 2006 as they unloaded the material, which, if it had been real, could have been used for a bomb. Sixteen others allegedly involved in the conspiracy were arrested minutes later.

The group became known as the Toronto 18. The infiltrator testified that Abdelhaleem, now 34, hoped the Al Qaeda leadership would eventually endorse the carnage as “an act of Al Qaeda in Canada.”

The plot came with a U.S. connection: In March 2005, two Georgia residents traveled to Canada to meet some of the Toronto 18 members. Ehsanul Islam Sadequee and Syed Haris Ahmed were convicted in American courts last summer of supporting terrorism in the U.S. and abroad.

In Toronto, four people were accused of being at the heart of the bomb plot — Abdelhaleem, Amara, Saad Gaya and Saad Khalid. All have been found guilty. Abdelhaleem, however, has not been convicted. His lawyer has introduced a motion to stay the case, which would see his client walk free, on the grounds of entrapment.

The others were accused of taking part in a jihad training camp in a wooden area north of Toronto, where they practiced shooting at targets with paintball guns and a handgun. Seven have had charges against them stayed or dropped, four face trials this spring, the rest were found guilty.

Fourteen of those arrested were young adults and four were under 18 years old. All were either born in Canada or spent most of their lives here. By any definition, they were homegrown. As an RCMP report recently noted, they communicated “in a sort of ‘hoser-gangsta’ patois,” and repeatedly proclaimed their love of Tim Horton’s doughnuts and the beauty of rural Ontario.