POLITICS

Two accused terrorists considered blowing up bridge, court hears

02/06/2015 04:00 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Two men accused in an alleged plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling from New York to Toronto wanted to establish a "network of likeminded brothers" to spread their message in Canada, their trial heard Friday.

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier face multiple terror-related charges in the alleged scheme that culminated in their arrest in April 2013. Not-guilty pleas have been entered for both.

Conversations recorded by an undercover FBI officer suggest the pair intended to instruct others to follow in their footsteps.

In a recording played in a Toronto courtroom Friday, Jaser is heard telling the undercover agent he wants to recruit "young men who are enthusiastic but ... have no direction" and bring them together "to be trained and talk and pray together."

A non-profit organization would be set up as a front, with an office, a mosque and possibly a high school, all to "educate the people," he is heard saying.

A stretch of land — roughly 40 hectares — several hours north of Toronto could be bought and transformed into a firearms training area, he is heard saying.

The recordings, captured at the FBI officer's hotel in September 2012, show the alleged train plot hit a snag after the rail bridge the pair purportedly planned to target proved to be sturdier than they believed.

Jaser explains they initially meant to weaken the bridge with jackhammers but found the structure too solid during a recent reconnaissance mission.

"These things are built well," he is heard saying, blaming variations in international building codes for the misinformation.

He goes on to say they could use heavy duty torches instead or simply blow up the bridge, which would require purchasing explosives.

"I don't see any other way," he is heard saying in an intercepted conversation with the officer, who befriended the two men posing as a wealthy U.S. businessman with radical views.

A few days later, both Jaser and Esseghaier recall in another taped conversation how they accidentally stumbled into a family's backyard mid-barbecue while scouting around the bridge. They decide their chosen location is too close to a residential area and set out to find another bridge.

The trial previously heard the alleged plot would see two men drill a hole in a railway bridge under cover of darkness to derail the train. The men would wait for a "green light" from radical contacts Esseghaier had overseas before the attack, court heard.

But in the recordings heard Friday, Jaser expresses concerns about taking directions from abroad. People in another country can't know what the situation is in Canada, he is heard arguing.

Jaser and the undercover agent also discuss plans to buy weapons from Russia — rather than organized crime or drug dealers — in order to carry out a sniper attack on Canadian leaders. They would rent out an apartment to stash the weapons, and another to serve as a safe house, they are heard saying.

In another recording played at trial Thursday, the accused were heard declaring that Canada's military action in Muslim lands justifies the butchering of civilians.

In one, Jaser is heard saying if it's in the right hands, "Islam is a very powerful weapon" that can "bulldoze the whole world."

Several months before their arrest, in September 2012, the undercover officer travelled to Toronto with Esseghaier and was introduced to Jaser.

Court heard the suspects revealed the full extent of their alleged plot to the officer, as well as the alleged sniper plan.

Later, on a trip back to Montreal, court heard the agent ask Esseghaier how they could justify the deaths of innocent women and children who would die in the train plot.

Esseghaier is heard explaining that since foreign soldiers were killing women and children in their country, the carnage would be justified.