Convicted Toronto 18 member the antithesis of a good witness, judge says

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BRAMPTON, Ont. - There is "virtually no evidence" to support a Toronto 18 member's claim he was entrapped by police, a judge ruled Tuesday in dismissing what he called the confusing and illogical testimony of Shareef Abdelhaleem.
Abdelhaleem's erratic demeanour on the stand was highly unusual, the judge said, calling the now convicted terrorist the "antithesis" of a good witness.
"He often launched into lengthy, rambling answers and raised his voice in an apparent attempt to convince all those listening to his evidence of the sincerity of his position," the judge said.
"At other times he mumbled and his voice would trail off into the barely audible range as if he was consumed by his inner thoughts and did not wish to share them at the moment."
Abdelhaleem's ramblings were "almost impossible" to follow in court, the judge said. Even when he reviewed the transcripts later Abdelhaleem's testimony was difficult to decipher and was not "logically persuasive," the judge added.
Abdelhaleem, 34, was found guilty last month of participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion. No conviction was entered at the time because his defence brought a motion seeking a stay on the basis of entrapment.
The judge ruled that Abdelhaleem's evidence fell far short of the test for entrapment - that police created a crime that otherwise wouldn't have occurred or that they induced the commission of a crime. Abdelhaleem acted as a "co-ordinator" in a bomb plot that would have caused death and destruction "so substantial that it is difficult to comprehend," the judge said.
"Nothing occurred which would induce an average person in the position of the accused, with strengths and weaknesses, to commit a crime as serious as this one."
Abdelhaleem's lawyer, William Naylor, said outside court that he thought his client's bizarre, confusing and often heated testimony "certainly" affected the judge's decision. However, Naylor added he thought his client did well on the stand, given the circumstances.
"He was in jail for 3 1/2 years before he got to speak to anybody in the public... so you don't have a lot of the social graces after 3 1/2 years in administrative detention," he said.
"My client's an emotional type. He bursts out. He just displays his emotions on his sleeve."
The prosecution said the public should be "very happy at what happened today."
"We always knew if we were patient, if we pursued the case, that truth and justice at the end of the day would win out," said Crown attorney Croft Michaelson.
Naylor had argued his client was "dragged in" to the Toronto 18 bomb plot by a former friend seeking revenge through his work as a police agent. Shaher Elsohemy was the only witness in the first portion of the trial.
The judge found that despite a rocky friendship with tensions between their two families, nothing Elsohemy did directed Abdelhaleem - who the judge called "quite cunning and deceitful" - toward criminal activity.
Much has been made of the approximately $4-million package RCMP offered Elsohemy to work as an agent and put him and his family in the witness protection program, but the judge noted Elsohemy had already provided valuable information willingly before that money was discussed.
The Crown contended Abdelhaleem was a willing and active participant in the plot to detonate massive bombs at the Toronto offices of CSIS, the Toronto Stock Exchange and an Ontario military base.
Abdelhaleem and 17 others who would come to be known as the Toronto 18 were arrested in the summer of 2006 and charged with terrorism offences. Several people, including Abdelhaleem, were charged in a plot to bomb military, intelligence and financial targets.
Abdelhaleem maintained he was an "outsider" in the plot who was just delivering messages back and forth between ringleader Zakaria Amara and Elsohemy, but that he tried to stay involved so he could create opportunities for sabotage.
Amara was sentenced to life last month.
Abdelhaleem alternatively argued that he inserted himself into the plot as a middle man so his friend Elsohemy wouldn't be seen associating alone with Amara, who they knew was under surveillance. The judge dismissed both contentions, saying the latter "amounts to a loud protest without the force of any real logic."
"The accused's position that he was only involved for the purpose of protecting his friend Mr. Elsohemy is nonsensical in the context of all of the evidence," the judge said.
"The evidence contains many instances where the accused took the initiative to advance the bomb plot."
The case returns to court on Friday to set a date for sentencing submissions.

Organizations: Convicted Toronto 18, RCMP, CSIS Toronto Stock Exchange

Geographic location: BRAMPTON, Toronto, Ontario

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