A high-profile trial of an alleged ISIS recruiter was postponed indefinitely today after a judge accepted the defense’s argument that its job had been made impossible by incomplete and late disclosure of evidence.
Prosecutors also have abandoned plans to try Awso Peshdary of Ottawa in front of a jury.
Peshdary is accused of recruiting others to travel to Syria on jihad.
His alleged star recruit, convert John Maguire, became well-known to Canadians after he recorded a threatening video while dressed in ISIS combat garb in a ruined town in Syria. ISIS has since announced Maguire’s death in combat, though that report is unconfirmed.
Peshdary also is alleged to have helped a second Ottawa man, Khadar Khalib, reach ISIS territory. His fate is unknown; like Maguire, he is the subject of an international arrest warrant.
Peshdary was arrested in February 2015 and has been in custody ever since.
Three more men allegedly close to Peshdary– Carlos and Ashton Larmond and Suliman Mohamed– have pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and been sentenced to prison.
The case against Peshdary rests heavily on evidence collected by Abdullah Milton, a New Brunswick convert who worked for both CSIS and the RCMP as an informer, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in return.
Psychological assessments of Milton conducted for his handlers describe a series of mental issues, including parasitic and psychopathic behaviours.
Both CSIS and the RCMP have delayed releasing relevant material to the defense, drawing the ire of the judge in the case. One 1,900-page stack of RCMP evidence was handed over in late January– but dozens of compact discs from CSIS were still outstanding.
CSIS handed over a stack of CDs in early February, but the defence team found them to be blank. CSIS subsequently handed over more discs containing the records of conversations between Peshdary and government agent Milton.
The last piece of evidence — a search warrant obtained by the RCMP against Peshdary– was only disclosed to the defence at the end of last week.
The judge in the case has been severely critical of the delays in disclosure by both CSIS and RCMP, pointing out that much of the material released recently should have been given to the defence three years ago.
The Crown had elected to try the Peshdary case in front of a jury, in spite of the defense’s preference for a judge-only trial. Monday was supposed to see the beginning of jury selection.
On Monday morning, as it became clear that any jury empanelled might have to wait many weeks for the trial to begin, prosecutors agreed to a defense motion to have a judge hear the evidence.
That change may streamline the trial. Peshdary’s name and face are widely known in the city of Ottawa, where he was already implicated in a previous terrorism case (Project Samossa) that led to lengthy sentences for two men (Hiva Alizadeh and Misbahuddin Ahmed) and acquittal for a third (Dr. Khurram Sher).
Lawyers are due to return to court later this week to begin looking for new dates for the trial to begin.
The defense team has not signaled any plan to try to get charges dismissed on the grounds that the case has taken too long to come to trial– but with three years having already elapsed since Peshdary was charged, each additional delay increases the possibility that such a motion might succeed.