‘Evidence is overwhelming’ in terror plot to derail train, Crown argues

An “overwhelming” amount of evidence against two men accused of plotting to derail a passenger train ought to convince jurors of the pair’s guilt, a Crown prosecutor argued in closing arguments at the alleged terrorists’ trial Wednesday.

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier face multiple charges in connection with their alleged plot to target a Via Rail train travelling from New York to Toronto.

Jaser pleaded not-guilty and Esseghaier, who is self-represented and does not want to participate in his trial because he disagrees with the Criminal Code, had a not-guilty plea entered for him by the judge presiding over the case.

Neither man called evidence or witnesses in his defence.

As Crown lawyer Croft Michaelson began his closing submissions, he reminded the jury that Crown prosecutors only need to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“That standard has clearly been met,” he said. “When you review the evidence, when you consider the submissions of counsel, ask yourself what makes sense. Be guided by your common sense and you will come to a just result.”

Michaelson carefully took jurors over highlights from conversations between the two accused and an undercover FBI officer who gained their trust — hours of secret recordings that have formed the bulk of evidence in the case.

“The evidence is overwhelming that they agreed to cause damage to a railway bridge and agreed to murder persons,” he said.

“Their trips to scout out railway locations … their recruitment of (the undercover officer), their discussions concerning all the logistics of their attacks, their statements expressing their extremist views…established both the general conspiracy to commit murder and the conspiracy to damage a railway bridge beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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, the court has heard.

Jaser eventually dropped out of the alleged plot altogether following an encounter with police while the men were on a scouting mission, the trial heard.

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

He spent considerable time emphasizing Jaser’s involvement in the alleged plot, hinting at the approach that might be taken by Jaser’s lawyer in his own closing submissions on Thursday.

He pointed to a conversation Jaser had with the undercover agent in late September, where he explained a long-term objective to set up a self sustaining operation that would allow them to fund terrorist activities.

“That makes sense doesn’t it,” Michaelson said. “What is implausible and has no evidentiary foundation is that he would be interested in that kind of venture for pure material reward.”

Michaelson also referred to a conversation where, before his falling out with Esseghaier, Jaser said the alleged bridge plot was “too much work for a very small job” and discussed the idea of a potential alleged sniper plot.

“He’d prefer to be pursing the sniper plot, he’d prefer to be killing Jews, but when you look at everything said by Mr. Jaser…the conspiracy is still in existence,” Michaelson said. “He doesn’t say he’s out of the general conspiracy to murder people.”

Jaser and Esseghaier were arrested in April 2013.

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