Alleged "Toronto 18" leader pleads guilty

This content was published on October 8, 2009 - 18:53

TORONTO (Reuters) - A man described by prosecutors as the leader of a group that planned al Qaeda-style bombings of Toronto landmarks in 2006, pleaded guilty on Thursday to bomb charges, the fifth member of the so-called "Toronto 18" group to have admitted guilt or to have been found guilty.
Zakaria Amara, 23, of Toronto, pleaded guilty in a Brampton, Ontario, court to charges of participating in the activities of a terrorist group and planning explosions likely to cause serious bodily harm or death, Canada's public prosecutor said in a statement.
He was one of a group of 18 men and youths arrested in a police sting three years ago.
The group allegedly tried to buy three tonnes of explosives from undercover police officers, and planned to use truck bombs and remote detonators in a plot similar to the July 2005 London Underground bombings.
Prosecutors say members of the group had hoped the attacks -- targets included a military base, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the Toronto offices of Canada's spy agency -- would prompt Canada to pull its military out of Afghanistan.
Since the arrests, charges against seven members of the group were dropped, which initially sparked media speculation that authorities had overstretched to lay high-profile charges with little hard evidence.
But five others have since either entered guilty pleas or been convicted. Two of these have received custodial sentences ranging from two to seven years, after receiving credit for time served.
Reports say that Amara is expected to face a stiffer sentence due to his leadership role in the group.
The Globe and Mail newspaper said on Thursday that Amara will face life in prison, with little leniency likely to be shown.
His guilty plea came as a surprise, as he had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Trials for the remaining six accused have yet to begin.
(Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Peter Galloway)

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