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Terror suspect nabbed at Toronto airport going directly to trial

Mohamed Hersi is seen in this artist's rendition during court proceedings in a Ontario Court of Justice courtroom in Brampton, Ont., Wednesday, March 30, 2011.

Natalie Berman for the Globe and Mail/natalie berman The Globe and Mail

The public prosecutor is skipping preliminary hearings and proceeding directly to trial in the case of a suspected terrorist arrested at Toronto airport last spring.

The so-called direct indictment means Mohamed Hassan Hersi, 25, will get his day in court much more quickly.

Mr. Hersi was arrested March 29 at Pearson International Airport as he boarded a plane headed for London and Cairo.

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RCMP say he was on his way to Somalia to join the militant group al-Shabab, designated a terrorist organization by both Canada and the United States.

Police said Mr. Hersi, a Canadian citizen who has been free on bail, quit his job to prepare for the trip.

He was charged with attempting to participate in terrorist activity and providing counsel to a person to participate in a terrorist activity.

Mr. Hersi's lawyer, Anser Farooq, has said his client had no intention of becoming a member of al-Shabaab and was set up by a man who tried to befriend him.

Mr. Farooq said his client was travelling to Egypt to take Arabic language courses, and that his mother was considering moving there.

The arrest ended a six-month investigation dubbed "Project Severe."

Police said they were tipped off to Mr. Hersi's alleged involvement with terrorist organizations in September 2010. They said they seized evidence in the case, but provided no details.

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Authorities said at the time of Mr. Hersi's arrest they had found nothing that would suggest a direct threat to Canada.

But police and others have expressed concern about the number of young Somali-Canadians who have been recruited, radicalized and indoctrinated by al-Shabab, which is dedicated to overthrowing Somalia's transitional government.

Al-Shabab — which means "the youth" in Arabic — embraces an extremist form of Islam similar to the conservative brand practised by Afghanistan's Taliban. Its fighters number several thousand.

In October, the al-Qaeda-linked group called for terrorist attacks in Canada and a host of other countries.

Ottawa listed the Somali group as a terrorist organization last year, citing youth recruitment as one reason. That same month, Mohammed Elmi Ibrahim, a former University of Toronto student who disappeared in 2008, was killed in Somalia after joining the group.

Six men who attended a Toronto mosque disappeared in 2009 and are also believed to have joined al-Shabaab.

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A recent CSIS report acknowledged several Canadians left for terrorist training camps in Somalia in 2009, demonstrating "the attraction for some of travelling abroad for training and becoming ensconced within groups co-ordinating and planning violent 'jihad' against the West."

Somalia has not had a fully functioning government in more than 20 years.

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