Jan. 18, 2010 -- The ringleader of the Toronto 18 terror cell that plotted to detonate truck bombs outside city landmarks and kill maximum victims, was sentenced to life in prison inside a Canadian court today, in what the judge called a "potential loss of life…never before seen in Canada."
Zakaria Amara, 24, had pleaded guilty to terrorism and bombing charges and told the court last week this his "terrorist plans were divinely aborted" as he apologized to Canadians for leading what would have been the most horrific terrorist attack in Canada's history.
"There can be no legitimate suggestion that this was not the real thing," Judge Bruce Durno said at the sentencing. "This was not a group of amateurs."
At his sentencing hearing last week, Amara said, "I have no excuses or explanations. I deserve nothing than your complete and absolute contempt."
Amara admitted masterminding the 2006 terrorist plot to blow up fertilizer bombs in U-Haul vans outside the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto offices of Canada's spy agency, and an Ontario military base.
He asked an undercover informant to help him purchase ammonium nitrate – the same fertilizer used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
Amara confessed to trying to buy the chemicals needed to for the bombs, as well as researching how to build explosives, building a remote-controlled detonator and leading a terrorist training camp in Ontario. To kill the maximum number of people, Amara planned to put metal chips inside the bombs and explode them when the areas would be the busiest.
The group has since said they planned the attacks to get Canadian troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
His attorney Michael Lacy had asked for a sentence of 18 to 20 years.
"[Amara] knows he's deserving of a very significant sentence," Lacy told ABC News. "He's not shying away from his responsibility."
Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act
Amara's sentence is the stiffest handed down to date under the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act, which was implemented after the 9/11 attacks.
He'll be eligible for parole 10 years the date of his arrest.
His attorney said Amara, who's been held in a local Toronto jail, will soon be transferred to a federal penitentiary to serve out his sentence. Amara's remorse and apologies are "unprecedented" for a leader of a terror cell, Lacy said.
After the sentencing, Amara again addressed the court to reiterate his commitment to abandoning his extremist views.
"I will use my sentence to build myself from a man of destruction to a man of construction," he said in a letter to the court.
No decision has yet been made on whether they'll file an appeal.
Attack 'Helper" Sentenced to 12 Years
Another one of the plotters, Saad Gaya, was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison.
Gaya, 22, pleaded guilty last fall to plotting an explosion likely to cause serious bodily harm. The prosecution had sought a sentence of 17 to 18 years behind bars, but Judge Dorno said Gaya "was not the prime mover in the plan," as was Amara.
Instead, Gaya was a "helper" in the plot that Dorno called "chilling and terrifying."
Since Gaya will receive two-for-one credit based on the years he served since his arrest in 2006, and extra credit for 14 months spent in solitary confinement, he has less than another four and a half years to go in prison.
According to Canadian parole standards, Gaya will be eligible for parole after one and a half years (one-third of his remaining sentence).
Out of the other 16 originally charged in the plot, five have pleaded guilty or been convicted and seven have had their charges dropped or stayed. The others are set to stand trial in March.
Terrorism Threats in Canada
Following Monday's sentencings, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police warned that threats of terrorism in Canada are real.
"This case also underscores the reality that Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism," Gilles Michaud, RMCP Assistant Commissioner of National Security Criminal Investigations, said in a statement. "The extent of the preparations and the enormity of the attacks being planned in this case are quite chilling."