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Via Rail plot trial: Raed Jaser, Chiheb Esseghaier found guilty on 8 terror charges

03/20/2015 04:14 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, two men accused of plotting to derail a Via passenger train travelling between Canada and the U.S., have been found guilty on eight of nine terror-related charges.

Esseghaier was found guilty on all five terrorism charges against him. But the jury was deadlocked on one of the four charges that Jaser was facing.

On Friday, the 10th day of deliberations, after the jury said it was "irrevocably deadlocked" on that one charge, Judge Michael Code told jurors he would accept their unanimous decision on the eight other charges.

Among the charges, both men were found guilty of:

- Conspiring to commit murder for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.

- Two counts of participating in, or contributing to the activity of a terrorist group.

Esseghaier was also found guilty of:

- Conspiring to damage transportation property with the intent to endanger safety for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.

The jury was deadlocked on that same charge for Jaser. Code called a mistrial on that one specific charge.

Jaser’s lawyer had argued that his client was only pretending to be interested in the plan as part of an elaborate scheme to extract money from Esseghaier and the undercover officer.

Both men could face maximum punishment of up to life in prison.

'Serious public dangers'

The lead prosecutor Croft Michaelson said it was an overwhelming case in terms of evidence, but also a difficult and legally complex case, which is why it took the jurors 10 days to come to a verdict.

Asked about the accused, Michaelson said he would describe them as "real serious public dangers."

Meanwhile, John Norris, defence lawyer for Jaser, praised and thanked the jurors for their diligence, despite the verdict. 

"Raed is obviously disappointed, but he remains resilient, he remains strong, he continues to have confidence in us and continues to have confidence in the administration of justice."

Before the jurors began their deliberations last week, the judge told them that the most important evidence in the case was 25 hours of secretly recorded conversations between the accused and an undercover FBI agent.

The officer posed as a wealthy Egyptian-American real estate developer whose views had supposedly become more hardline in recent years and who was a willing accomplice in the alleged conspiracy.

He rented a "safe house," which had been bugged by police, for the operation. And he bought the two accused plotters meals, drove them to scouting locations and handed out cash.

The court heard conversations in which Jaser and Esseghaier discussed their ideologies, the alleged plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling between New York and Toronto and other ideas for potential attacks, including Jaser’s alleged "sniper plot" idea, which would have been in retaliation for Canadian military actions in Muslim countries.

Jurors were also shown aerial surveillance of the two accused and the undercover officer scouting a railway bridge in September 2012 in broad daylight as several trains passed by only metres away.

Their presence on the bridge drew attention, and the men were stopped after they had returned to their vehicle by uniformed Toronto police officers who were unaware the men were under surveillance. The FBI agent told officers they were sightseeing and the men were given a warning.

Esseghaier refuses to participate in trial

Jaser, a Canadian permanent resident of Palestinian descent, pleaded not guilty. He did not testify in his own defence.

Esseghaier, a Tunisian national who was pursuing a PhD in Montreal when he and Jaser were arrested in April 2013, chose not to participate in his trial, because he wants to be judged by the rules of the Qur'an.

He did not cross-examine any witnesses or bring a defence, but he did offer the jury what he considered "sincere advice" in an unusual written closing statement, urging them to follow the rules of the Qur'an and prepare for "judgment day."

He had a not guilty plea entered by the judge. 

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