Guilty plea from leader of terror cell; one member had tried out for Canadian Idol

OTTAWA (AFP) - The alleged ringleader of a Canadian terror cell accused of planning attacks against the military was jailed for 24 years on Wednesday after admitting possessing an explosive device.

Hiva Alizadeh, 34, was one of three men arrested in police raids and charged in 2010 in what was described in court as a plot to attack Canadian military and other targets. As part of a deal with the prosecution, more serious terrorism charges were dropped and he will be eligible for parole in nine years.

An Ottawa hospital X-ray technologist, Hisbahuddin Ahmed, is awaiting sentencing after he was found guilty in July of participating in the conspiracy.

A third man, Khurram Sher, a Canadian doctor of Pakistani heritage who once auditioned for a televised talent show, was acquitted at trial of terrorism last month. His arrest had been met with disbelief across Canada.

Police had seized circuit boards and other materials that could be used to make bombs (although no actual explosives), as well as reams of jihadist propaganda and instructional videos, from the group. The suspects had been under surveillance for months.

At one point, police secretly replaced the group's half-built detonators with harmless replicas. Alizadeh was also recorded discussing sending money to his family in Iran for rocket launchers and grenades, and later sent the funds.

As well, he requested accommodations at an Afghanistan training camp for one of his co-conspirators seeking instruction on building improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The camp was said by police to be linked to a group fighting NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

Evidence at Sher's trial included a wiretap of a dinner conversation in which the trio discussed attacking a repatriation ceremony at a Canadian military base, which are usually attended by the deceased soldier's family, senior military commanders and the defence minister.

Other police intercepts, however, suggested that his alleged co-conspirators did not believe Sher was fully committed to "violent jihad."

At trial, Sher admitted to contributing Can$400 (S$461) to the group but said he believed it was intended for Kurds in Iraq. Records showed he contributed regularly to charities.

Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland said Sher likely harboured jihadist sympathies but that the evidence did not prove he intended to join the conspiracy.

In 2008, Sher had auditioned for the television talent show "Canadian Idol," putting on an exaggerated accent and telling producers he immigrated from Pakistan. In fact he was born and raised in Montreal.

Dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez and pakul hat, he appeared in a YouTube video of the audition performing Michael Jackson's famed moonwalk and a robot dance for the judges.

He also butchered Avril Lavigne's hit song "Complicated," prompting this posting on a Facebook page: "I for one am glad that he is attempting to show the nation that 'moslims' are not all extremists."