POLITICS

Train derailment plot 'very simple idea,' Via Rail terror trial hears

02/03/2015 04:00 EST | Updated 04/04/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A plan to derail a train travelling between Canada and the U.S. was a "very simple" idea that would kill scores of people and pave the way for more acts of terrorism, the trial of two men accused in the alleged plot heard Tuesday.

The attack was characterized that way by Chiheb Esseghaier in an audio recording of a conversation he had with an undercover FBI officer while the pair were on their way to meet his co-conspirator, Raed Jaser.

Jaser and Esseghaier both face multiple terrorism-related charges in the alleged Via Rail plot, which sought to target a train between New York and Toronto. Not-guilty pleas have been entered for both men.

The undercover officer who gained the pair's trust told their trial he first came to learn of the train plot while driving from Montreal to Toronto with Esseghaier to meet Jaser.

The secret audio recordings from that drive were played for the trial on Tuesday.

"I am working on this idea with the brother from Palestine," Esseghaier is heard saying in the conversation conducted largely in Arabic, referring to Jaser, who is a permanent resident of Palestinian descent.

"The train is going very fast on the railway, but it's on the bridge ... So like before the train passes by, an hour or two, what do we do, we make a hole in the bridge."

That hole would be made by two people disguised as construction workers and would be about five to six metres big, Esseghaier said.

"So when the train is going very fast on the bridge he cannot see the hole and when he start to see the hole he start to decrease speed — it's too late for him."

"He will go through the hole....and it will be a big accident," Esseghaier said. "Many people they will die."

Esseghaier, a Tunisian national who was doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Quebec, is heard imploring the undercover officer to keep the plan a secret.

"It's a very simple idea," he is heard saying. "There is no missile, nothing."

The bridge selected for the attack had to be in an isolated area, away from houses, Esseghaier told the undercover officer, adding that he and Jaser had already scouted a few locations.

The attack would be carried out in December, after dark, he said, telling the undercover officer that the plan was referred to in code as "going fishing."

The attack also targeted a train between the U.S. and Toronto to ensure both Americans and Canadians were victims, he said.

Finally, the plan included a video, which would warn of further attacks, Esseghaier said.

"We will say this operation is just the beginning. If you don't get out from our land we will do more and more," he is heard saying "Because Canada and America have armies."

Civilians would be targeted because the Canadian and American governments used taxpayers' money in their missions in Muslim countries overseas, Esseghaier said.

"So we cannot say that they are civilian, no, they are participating in the war against our brothers. They are in the military too, but they are in the military with civilian clothes."

The undercover officer noted in court that Esseghaier had grown very animated at that point.

"His hands were flailing, he was very exuberant and angry as he was discussing the justification," he said.

The undercover officer also told the court that Esseghaier had another idea, to recruit a Muslim chef to poison troops on an army base, but that little progress had been made on that project.

The Crown has alleged Jaser and Esseghaier were motivated by Islamic extremism and spent months plotting to murder as many people as they could.

Esseghaier had been motivated by "mujahedeen brothers" he had met on a trip to Iran in early 2012, the trial heard. He returned to Canada intent on establishing a terrorist cell and Jaser got involved with him, the Crown has said.

The recordings played in court Tuesday included discussions of Esseghaier's time in Iran.

"They teach me the projects," Esseghaier said, in reference to the alleged terror plans. "I got the message...from our sheik...the one who succeeded Sheik Osama...the first advice is do your study well. The second advice is don't argue with whatsoever person."

Jaser and Esseghaier were arrested in April 2013.