Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Khurram Syed 'Canadian Idol' contestant acquitted on terrorism

Khurram Syed Sher gives a thumbs up outside court in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, after he was found not guilty of conspiring to facilitate terrorism. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
Former "Canadian Idol" contestant was acquitted on Tuesday of conspiring to facilitate terrorism, with the judge finding insufficient evidence that he intended to join a plot.

Khurram Syed Sher, an Ontario doctor whose 2010 arrest got international attention because of his appearance on the contest show, had pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors had accused Sher of agreeing with two other men to raise money, send cash abroad, take paramilitary training, make and use explosives, and scout targets in Canada.

Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland said that while Sher probably harbored jihadist sympathies, he was not convinced the doctor genuinely intended to join a conspiracy.

Prosecutor Jason Wakely said it was the first time someone was found not guilty after going to trial on charges under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, which was introduced in 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to prosecutor Jason Wakely. The prosecutor said he was disappointed and an appeal would be considered.

During the investigation, police seized terrorist literature, videos and manuals, along with dozens of electronic circuit boards allegedly designed to detonate homemade bombs remotely.

Sher, 32, has been free on bail for years, under strict conditions.

"It feels great," he said outside the courthouse after the verdict.

His defense lawyer, Michael Edelson, said Sher will now focus on rebuilding his life.

"His career has been ended, he's lost over a million dollars in income, prestige in the community, and it's been a very, very tough four years," Edelson said. "His family has left, he's had reduced access to his children - it's been tragic."

Sher appeared on the singing-contest show in 2008, singing a comical version of Avril Lavigne's "Complicated."

A graduate of Montreal's McGill University, the Quebec-born Sher worked as an anatomical pathologist at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas, Ontario before his arrest.

At the trial, the prosecution cited evidence gathered through wiretaps of phone calls, intercepted emails and covertly installed listening devices.

Prosecutors played six segments of sometimes sketchy audio culled from electronic surveillance of a July 20, 2010, meeting in Ottawa between Sher and the two other men charged in the case. One has been convicted and the other is awaiting trial.

Prosecutors had portrayed the meeting as a pivotal moment for the purported plotters. But Sher's lawyers characterized the visit as a friendly stopover en route from Montreal to his new job in southern Ontario.

Defense arguments painted Sher as an avid hockey fan who gave thousands of dollars to charity and helped with earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan.

Sher testified that he doesn't believe in violence, but rather in community service.

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