POLITICS

Lawyers for terror suspects arrested in 2010 slam federal courtroom moves

05/17/2012 11:37 EDT | Updated 07/17/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Lawyers for three men accused of terrorist offences are expressing dismay about a sudden federal move that derailed months of planning.

Unexpectedly, federal prosecutors decided this week the men will go directly to trial in Ontario Superior Court.

It means two of the suspects will be denied preliminary hearings, while the third will now be tried in a new level of court, prompting objections from his counsel.

Misbahuddin Ahmed and Hiva Mohammad Alizadeh of Ottawa, and Khurram Syed Sher, of London, Ont., were arrested in August 2010 in the case known as Project Samossa.

Police said they seized terrorist literature, videos and manuals, along with dozens of electronic circuit boards allegedly designed to detonate homemade bombs remotely.

Ahmed, 28, worked as an X-ray technician at an Ottawa hospital, while Alizadeh, 32, had studied electrical engineering technology at Red River College in Winnipeg. Sher, a 30-year-old doctor of pathology, once danced and sang on the Canadian Idol program.

Lawyers for Ahmed and Alizadeh told a judge Thursday their preparations have been thrown into disarray by the new federal plan to go directly to trial and skip preliminary inquiries.

Matt Webber, counsel for Alizadeh, said the move had effectively scuttled a month's worth of court time he had set aside beginning the middle of June. Webber said he would ask federal prosecutors for a "formal explanation" of the sudden shift.

"I'm less than pleased with what's happened here."

Webber said he didn't even have time to inform Alizadeh of the new plan.

The bespectacled Alizadeh betrayed little emotion as he watched proceedings from the prisoner's box. Ahmed and Sher, free on bail, did not attend the hearing.

Mark Ertel, lawyer for Ahmed, said "the rug's been pulled out from under our feet" with the federal plan to bypass preliminary hearings.

He said defence counsel do not know details of the Crown's case nor anything about three expert witnesses expected to testify.

In addition, the lawyers just learned from federal counsel Martha Devlin that new material concerning wiretaps employed in the cases would be disclosed to them.

Ahmed and Alizadeh will be tried together, while Sher has opted for a separate trial.

Giuseppe Cipriano, counsel for Sher, told the judge he's not sure his client can even be referred directly to trial in Superior Court, since his case was initially slated for Ontario's provincial court.

"Our initial position is they don't have the jurisdiction to do this," he said after the proceeding Thursday.

Another hearing is slated for June 1 to start working out the various issues.

"We are prepared to go to trial whenever counsel and the court can avail us of the time," Devlin told the court.

Ertel said it's difficult to determine when the trial for his client might begin.

"We don't know what hasn't been disclosed to us yet," he said after the hearing. "We don't know what's been held back, and we frankly don't know why things have been held back.

"So it's hard to say how long it's going to take to prepare because we don't know what we're preparing to defend against, which is frustrating."