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Terror plot leader says 'sorry' to Canada

The convicted mastermind of the Al Qaeda-linked plot to blow up Canadian targets apologized to Canadians on Thursday. Known as the Toronto-18 terror plot, it was uncovered with the arrest of 18 Muslims, mostly of Pakistani origin, in June 2006.

world Updated: Jan 15, 2010 10:06 IST

The convicted mastermind of the Al Qaeda-linked plot to blow up Canadian targets apologized to Canadians on Thursday. Known as the Toronto-18 terror plot, it was uncovered with the arrest of 18 Muslims, mostly of Pakistani origin, in June 2006.

The plotters had planned to storm the Canadian parliament, take Prime Minister Stephen Harper hostage and behead him. The plotters had also planned to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, offices of the Canadian spy agency and many other targets.

Appearing for his sentencing in a court in Toronto on Thursday, Zakaria Amara, leader of the plot, read a letter to the judge and then an open letter to Canadians to regret his actions. Amara, who was convicted last October, said he was renouncing his jihadist views.

He said he has realized during the last few months in prison that he was consumed by an extremist ideology when he plotted mass murder of Canadians. "I would like to promise you and every Canadian that no matter how long it takes and how much it costs I will produce actions one day that will outweigh.

"Give me a chance that one day I will be able to pay the moral debt I still owe.''

But he said he has no excuses or explanation for his actions, and he deserves nothing but people's contempt. He said his extremist views persisted during his three years in solitary confinement in jail after his arrest in June 2006.

But when he was shifted to the general ward in jail, he said his views changed after befriending a Jewish man and another person whose brothers worked at the Toronto Stock Exchange that he wanted to blow off.

Because of his interaction with these two men, he said "my ideology was challenged and confronted.''

In what could have Canada's 9/11, four plotters, including Amara, have pleaded guilty so far. One has already been sentenced. Five are still waiting for their trial. Charges have dropped or stayed against seven others.

The plot was aborted with the help of a mole - a Muslim youth named Shaher Elsohemy - who was paid $4.1million by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to act as a co-conspirator. To carry out the plot, they had undergone training in firearms at a rural camp far away from Toronto in December 2005.

Amara had planned to flee to Pakstan after carrying out the plot.

Canadian laws are very lenient, with life imprisonment handed down only in rare cases. Canada has no death penalty.

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