Lawyer says client in Canada train terror plot was running a con

Thu Mar 5, 2015 1:46pm EST
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TORONTO (Reuters) - One of the men accused of plotting to derail a passenger train between Toronto and New York was a con man who pretended to be an Islamic extremist for his own financial gain, his defense lawyer told a court on Thursday.

Raed Jaser, a permanent resident in Canada of Palestinian descent, and Tunisian Chiheb Esseghaier were arrested in April 2013 and police at the time said the plot was backed by al Qaeda.

Neither of the men, who each face several terrorism-related charges, mounted a defense in the month-long trial. Esseghaier also declined legal counsel, saying he does not recognize the authority of the court.

The case against the two men relied heavily on intercepted conversations between them and an undercover FBI agent. The agent posed as a wealthy businessman with radical views who could help pull off the train attack and other violent plots, including plans to target political leaders.

"Mr. Jaser was not sincere in anything he said," his lawyer, John Norris, said in the trial's closing arguments.

"He was trying to run cons whenever he could, he was running short cons, he was running long cons," Norris said, citing recorded conversations in which Jaser convinces Esseghaier to withdraw money from his bank account.

"At no time was there the necessary meeting of the minds" between Jaser and Esseghaier to commit the alleged crimes, Norris said.

Esseghaier was studying for his PhD in medical biotechnology in Montreal at the time of his arrest.