Ian MacLeod, with files from Joanne Laucius, The Ottawa Citizen; with files from Citizen News Services

Published: Thursday, March 30, 2006

Momin Khawaja of Ottawa was devising a way to fit a remote-controlled model airplane with explosives, a London terrorism trial of seven Britons charged with plotting to bomb sites in Britain heard yesterday.

What's more, the trial was told, a senior al-Qaeda figure in Pakistan wanted the men to unleash a simultaneous wave of bombings in Britain in 2004. Potential targets, court has heard, included a London nightclub, pubs, trains and a major mall east of the British capital.

Yesterday's revelations from star prosecution witness Mohammed Babar are the first in which a witness has said the plot was directed and controlled by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Mr. Babar, a 33-year-old Pakistani-American, is testifying against his alleged conspirators in the hope of winning a lighter sentence in the U.S., where he has been convicted of terrorism offences. The seven defendants, all from southeast England and all but one of Pakistani descent, are charged with conspiring to attack a British target.

Mr. Babar told court yesterday that "Momin Khawaja and his brother were working on a GPS-navigated model airplane which could be fitted with explosives." (Mr. Khawaja has three brothers, Qasim, Tanzeel and Mohsan. None of them has been implicated by British or Canadian authorities in the alleged plot, nor do any of them face charges.)

Reached by cellphone last night, Qasim Khawaja, 28, said he is the only brother interested in model airplanes -- but he hasn't built a full model since he was in Grade 8 in about 1992 -- and that was made out of foam and not remote-controlled.

"Back then there was no GPS," he said.

He added that there were no model airplanes in the family's Orleans home when the RCMP raided it in March 2004, although there was a piece of pink foam insulation he used to make wings. The RCMP didn't take the foam, he said.

"I think he's making up a lot of stuff," Qasim Khawaja said of Mr. Babar's statement in court.

Mr. Babar said Momin Khawaja also acted as a mule for al-Qaeda, travelling to Pakistan in October 2003, via Britain, to allegedly bring supplies for the terror group, including a medical kit, money and invisible ink pens and the special lights needed to read the invisible script.

The supplies, he said, were from defendant Omar Khyam, 24, in Britain, and were to be given to Abu Munthir, who reported directly to al-Qaeda's No. 3 in command, Abdul Hadi, court heard.

Momin Khawaja, a 26-year-old Orleans computer expert, is named as a conspirator in the London case, but has not been charged by British authorities with any crime. Instead, he is to stand trial in Ottawa next January as the first person charged under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act. He has been in custody in an Ottawa jail since his March 2004 arrest and denies any involvement in the alleged terror plot.

Last week, the 12-member jury deciding the case heard from the Crown that Mr. Khawaja's primary role in the group was to built remote-controlled detonators to set off explosions using 600 kilograms of ammonium nitrate fertilizer the group acquired from a British agricultural merchant.

At Old Bailey yesterday, Crown prosecutor David Waters read out an e-mail in which Mr. Khawaja allegedly said that he could supply remote-controlled detonation devices, with a range of about two kilometres, for about $8 each. Mr. Khawaja also mentioned "Imran," a London subway worker allegedly asked by Mr. Khyam to carry out a suicide mission.

Mr. Babrar said defendant Salahuddin Amin, 31, also wanted to ask Mr. Khawaja "how to send a computer virus."

Mr. Babar also testified that Mr. Khyam travelled with another man to a remote tribal area of Pakistan to meet Mr. Munthir, the al-Qaeda go-between. He said Mr. Khyam "wanted to discuss with him (Abu Munthir) what they were planning in the U.K." He alleged the men said that Mr. Munthir "wanted them to do multiple bombings ... either simultaneously or one after the other on the same day."

Mr. Babar also said he met Mr. Amin in Pakistan, who gave him detonators to transport to Europe, and asked him for equipment allegedly used by some of the defendants at a terrorist training camp, allegedly to send over the Afghan border to al-Qaeda fighters engaged with U.S. troops.

Mr. Amin, Mr. Khyam, Waheed Mahmood, 34, Shujah Mahmood, 18, Jawad Akbar, 22, Anthony Garcia, 24, and Nabeel Hussain, 20, deny conspiring to cause an explosion likely to endanger life between October 2003 and March 2004.

Mr. Khyam, Mr. Garcia and Mr. Hussain deny possessing 600 kilograms of fertilizer for the purposes of terrorism. Mr. Khyam and Shujah Mahmood deny possessing aluminum powder, also for the purposes of terrorism.

The trial continues.