POLITICS

Via Rail terror suspect's 'sincere advice' to jury: Use Holy Qur'an to judge me

03/04/2015 11:48 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - One of two men facing terrorism charges in an alleged plot to derail a passenger train offered his "sincere advice" to jurors hearing his case on Wednesday.

The Criminal Code is a "book written by humans" and "humans are not perfect," Chiheb Esseghaier said in a unusual written closing address.

"That's why I required the Holy Qur'an as unique reference of my trial and the judgement of all matter of people's life," he wrote to the jury.

Esseghaier and his co-accused, Raed Jaser, face several terror-related charges in the alleged plot to derail a train travelling from New York to Toronto.

Esseghaier has refused to participate in his trial, did not call any evidence or witnesses in his defence and even had to have a not-guilty plea entered for him by the judge presiding over the case.

His submission to the jury was the first time the panel heard directly from him.

"I'm addressing you today because I want to give you sincere advice," Esseghaier wrote in the statement, which was read to jurors by a lawyer appointed to assist the court.

"I encourage you to retreat from the charge that has been affected to you as a first step of your sincere repentance to God."

Esseghaier's submission was read to jurors at the end of a day during which a Crown prosecutor repeatedly said there was "overwhelming" evidence that the two accused were guilty.

Crown lawyer Croft Michaelson pointed out that jurors had heard more than 25 hours of secretly recorded conversations between the pair and an undercover FBI agent who gained their trust, heard from the officer himself and viewed video surveillance of their scouting missions to railway bridges.

"The conversations were filled with statements in which they expressed their deeply held extremist beliefs, beliefs that fuelled their terrorist purpose and their deep desire to instill fear in the Canadian public," he said.

"There can be no doubt that they conspired to derail a passenger train with the intention to cause as many deaths as possible in association with a terrorist group. There can be no doubt that they participated in the activities of that group in order to enhance their own abilities to commit terrorist activities."

Michaelson emphasized that Jaser and Esseghaier's conversations demonstrated they didn't just have one attack in mind.

"They intended to carry out continuous acts of Jihad, continuous acts of terror," he said. "It's a general conspiracy to murder persons unknown until Canadian troops leave Muslim lands."

The trial has heard Jaser and Esseghaier muse on the recordings about using the alleged train plot as retaliation for western military action in Muslim lands.

Jaser, a permanent resident of Palestinian descent, was heard on intercepted conversations saying they wanted "the whole country to burn," and the he "could care less who dies" because "everyone is a target.

The trial also heard Esseghaier, a Tunisian national who was pursuing his PhD in Montreal, justify the killing of innocent women and children as necessary for saving Islam, particularly because he claimed western troops were killing women and children in Muslim countries.

A rift developed between Jaser and Esseghaier as they hammered out the finer details of their plot, however, with Jaser worried about the difficulties of attacking a train, court heard.

Jaser eventually dropped out of the alleged plot following an encounter with police during a scouting mission, the trial heard.

Michaelson noted, however, that "it is not a defence to abandon or withdraw from a conspiracy."

He reminded the jury that the case only needed to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt — "a standard that has been met"— and urged them to be guided by common sense.

"You must convict them," he told the jury. "Because the overwhelming evidence establishes that they were guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. In the face of this overwhelming evidence nothing else makes any sense."