It was a scheme to bomb downtown Toronto that even a confessed conspirator now acknowledges as "a despicable crime."
Prosecutors say the ringleaders debated whether to plant metal chips in bombs to maximize the number of people injured - and spoke of their co-ordinated explosions dwarfing the impact of the 2005 London subway bombings that killed 50 commuters.
A penitent Saad Khalid Tuesday asked a Superior Court judge for clemency during sentencing.
"I acknowledge that I made a huge mistake and not a day passes by that I am not filled with regret for my role in this despicable crime," Mr. Khalid told the court.
Having already pleaded guilty to involvement in the foiled bomb plot, he became the first person arrested to speak of the crime.
"I am not a lunatic who is hell-bent on destruction of Western civilization," said the 22-year-old, who explained that he was a middle-class McMaster University student from a good home. His mistake, he said, arose from a "disagreement on the issue of Canadian foreign policy, specifically Canada's involvement in Afghanistan."
Although he was a helper and not a mastermind, Mr. Khalid's statement addresses questions that have lingered since his arrest: How real was the bomb plot? And what did the alleged conspirators - raised in Canada - hope to accomplish?
"I know now that resorting to violence is not the way to bring about social or political change," said Mr. Khalid, wearing a dark suit and a short haircut.
He also told Mr. Justice Bruce Durno he has a better understanding of Islam since being jailed.
On a day when five co-ordinated car bombs in Kandahar killed dozens of Afghan civilians, Mr. Khalid didn't say precisely what he was thinking when he helped unload boxes of fertilizer from the backs of trucks three years ago. That was on June 2, 2006, the day that police swept across the Toronto area to arrest 18 Muslim youth.
Publication bans still shield the identities of Mr. Khalid's co-accused. Nine other adults await trial on terrorism charges that range in severity and scope.
The bomb plot involved a maximum of five of the suspects, including Mr. Khalid, but ongoing secrecy orders and pretrial wrangling have prevented any public discussion of the case.
However, in public documents filed after Mr. Khalid's guilty plea earlier this summer outline the Crown's case. A 37-page statement says the bomb-plot suspects were followed, wiretapped, and infiltrated.
The Crown alleges that only two suspects - not Mr. Khalid - were privy to the full details of the bomb plot.
They are alleged to have discussed targets for fertilizer-laden U-Haul vans rigged with cellphone detonators: The Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and an unspecified military base along Highway 401.
The man accused of being the ringleader was allegedly spotted at public libraries in Mississauga with "a soldering iron, spools of wire, and batteries," and searching on Google for terms like "ammonium nitrate," "nitric acid" and "rocket fuel." While he is said to have given pagers and computer memory sticks to underlings to avoid police surveillance, the digital devices were intercepted.
It's alleged that the No. 2 bomb plotter was heard discussing the acquisition of chemicals, setting up delivery locations and the purchase of airline tickets to Pakistan.
The document says the two ringleaders said the plot would "screw Stephen Harper." Other times, they predicted the bombs would "result in Canadians not leaving their homes due to fear" and prompt Canada to withdraw troops from Afghanistan because "it is not tough like Britain or the United States."
The Crown says in the document the infiltration continued until a couple of underlings in the plot - including Mr. Khalid - were spotted buying corrugated cardboard boxes from Rona Home and Garden and later unloading cartons marked "ammonium nitrate" from a truck. That was the day of the police sting.
Last month, Judge Durno ruled that Mr. Khalid was part of a core group of suspects who were in on the bomb plot. But he also found the accused was unaware of the specifics and willfully blind to the likelihood that the explosions would seriously harm people. RCMP forensics experts suggest the bombs would have killed people in downtown skyscrapers, along with pedestrians, as deadly glass shards rained down.
After Mr. Khalid read his statement, his lawyer argued that his client should get only 10 years in jail - and that his tough pretrial conditions meant he had already served the equivalent of eight.
The court is expected to mete out its punishment next month, but the suspect said he is already consumed with guilt.