September 23, 2015 / 5:28 PM / 2 years ago

Train derailment plotters sentenced to life in prison in Canada

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An artist's sketch shows Chiheb Esseghaier making his first court appearance, in Montreal, April 23, 2013.Atalante

TORONTO (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 and Raed Jaser, a permanent Canadian resident of Palestinian descent, were given the maximum sentence for conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a terrorist group after the judge said they showed no remorse and little prospect for rehabilitation.

"I am satisfied that life imprisonment is the appropriate sentences for both counts one and two," Justice Michael Code said in handing down the sentences, referring to charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to derail a train.

Jaser was not found guilty of the second count.

Government prosecutors had asked for life sentences for both men. They will be given credit for time served and will eligible for parole after 10 years.

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.

Neither mounted a defense or took the stand, while Esseghaier refused to acknowledge the authority of the court and did not retain legal counsel, arguing that the Koran should be used as the sole legal reference.

After more than two years in captivity and just ahead of sentencing, Esseghaier had started speaking of Dec. 25, 2014 as a pivotal date when his soul would ascend to heaven and Jesus Christ would return to Earth.

The court heard that he believed prison officials were trying to trick him into believing it was already 2015.

Justice Code said it was difficult to say whether all Esseghaier's current beliefs were delusional, but his core vision of violent jihad was not, and 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.

Esseghaier received a second life sentence and an additional 18 years in prison, to be served concurrently with the life sentences, for participating in a terrorist group, conspiring to damage transportation property with the intent to endanger safety and other charges.

Jaser was sentenced to an additional 13 years in prison, also to be served concurrently.

Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by James Dalgleish

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