Train derailment plotters sentenced to life in prison in Canada

by Reuters
Wednesday, 23 September 2015 19:58 GMT

(New throughout, adds details, comments from prosecutor, defense lawyer, amicus)

By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - A Toronto court on Wednesday sentenced two men to life in prison for plotting to derail a passenger train between New York and Toronto, with the judge saying they had no remorse for violent plans meant to cause fear and alter Canada's foreign policy.

Tunisian postdoctoral student Chiheb Esseghaier, 33, and Raed Jaser, a 37-year-old permanent Canadian resident of Palestinian descent, were given the maximum sentence for conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a terrorist group. The judge said they showed no remorse and little prospect for rehabilitation.

Each was also sentenced to additional time behind bars for lesser charges, minus time served, and will be eligible for parole after 10 years.

"I am satisfied that life imprisonment is the appropriate sentence," Justice Michael Code said in handing down the sentences for plots "designed to result in indiscriminate killings".

The men were found guilty in March after a trial that relied heavily on the evidence of an undercover FBI agent who befriended the pair and recorded conversations about the train plot and other violent plans, including targeting political leaders.

Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson, speaking outside the court after sentencing, said: "If you commit terrorist offences in Canada with the intention of causing indiscriminate killing, you are going to pay a very heavy price."

Jaser's lawyer, John Norris, said his client would appeal.

"We are disappointed with the sentence that was imposed, we do view it as excessive. We have instructions to appeal the conviction as well as the sentence," he said.

Esseghaier did not retain legal counsel, and the amicus assigned to him, Russell Silverstein, did not say whether an appeal would be launched on his behalf.

He said Esseghaier is mentally ill and needs psychiatric treatment he will struggle to receive in a penitentiary.

Esseghaier had refused to acknowledge the court's authority and argued the Koran should be its sole legal reference.

After guilty verdicts were reached, Esseghaier started speaking of Dec. 25, 2014 as a pivotal date when his soul would ascend to heaven and Jesus Christ would return to Earth.

He believed prison officials were trying to trick him into believing it was already 2015.

Justice Code said it was difficult to say whether Esseghaier was delusional, but that he was of sound mind during the planning of the plot. He refused to postpone sentencing until it could be determined that Esseghaier had a mental illness. (Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by James Dalgleish and David Gregorio)

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